CONCORD — Saying the prospect of President Trump’s impeachment is blocking all meaningful debate, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford on Tuesday ended his quixotic bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020.
Sanford, 59, said he will continue to speak out about the record federal debt and its long-term impact on the nation’s economy.
“I am going to suspend my campaign and try to find other ways to advance this timely, important but unfortunately out-of-season issue,” Sanford told reporters during a news conference outside the State House.
Sanford said he had $1.3 million in his campaign account, which would be enough to have an impact in the first-in-the-nation primary.
But the former governor and congressman said it’s become clear to him in the past two weeks that the national media was focused on impeachment and primary voters are more intent on picking sides than having discussions on policy.
“You cannot have a meaningful debate on what we do about that debt and deficit, what comes next financially for this country,” Sanford said.
“Instead it is red team versus blue team, us against them. The complete debate is about whether you are on this team or that team.”
Sanford lost his congressional reelection bid in 2018 when President Trump endorsed his primary opponent.
He did not rule out a run to regain that seat in Congress in 2020 and declined to speculate on whether he would support another presidential candidate.
“You have got to be a realist, and what I did not anticipate is an impeachment; you have had only two of them in the history of this country,” Sanford said.
Sanford also criticized South Carolina Republican leaders who bowed to the wishes of the Trump reelection campaign by cancelling the state’s Republican presidential primary. He said that move could reduce his home state’s political influence in the future.
Former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Bill Weld, set to submit his papers for the New Hampshire primary Wednesday, praised Sanford.
“Mark Sanford’s voice in the primaries will be missed. A true fiscal conservative, he has advocated the common-sense policies too seldom heard from Donald Trump or anyone else in Washington,” Weld said. “It is shameful that the Trump-controlled South Carolina state party cancelled a primary in which Mark could have been a real factor.”
Sanford said his decision to drop out was a pragmatic one.
“You have to look at what is prudent, what makes sense in advancing the ideas that I believe in — that we are spending too much money in Washington, D.C.,” Sanford said.
Opposition to deficit spending is not a new issue for Sanford.
During six terms in the U.S. House, Sanford was regarded as one of the most fiscally conservative members of the entire body.
As governor, he tried to turn down federal stimulus money until a state court ruled that only the Legislature could accept or reject it.
Sanford also knows something about impeachment, as there was a move among House GOP leaders to remove him from office after he admitted to having an extramarital affair.
For nearly a week in the spring of 2009, then-Gov. Sanford disappeared, and upon his return confessed he had gone to Argentina to visit his mistress.
A South Carolina state ethics panel charged Sanford with 37 violations but concluded his transgressions did not warrant overturning his election.
In January 2010 the Legislature voted overwhelmingly to censure Sanford for his behavior.
Sanford said he didn’t support Trump’s potential impeachment.
“I’ve said from the beginning if you are going to look at anything, I think you should look at a censure,” Sanford said.
“Our campaign may be a casualty of this process but there’s a far bigger casualty out there — and that is a debate on anything other than impeachment.”