This sentence would have been unimaginable in this space 15 years ago: Mark Sanford should run for president.
The often thin-skinned Sanford, out of the limelight for months since a surprise 2018 primary loss to a backer of President Trump, has been tinkering with the idea of taking on the divisive, narcissistic president.
But Sanford shouldn't employ a frontal political assault. Trump has screwed up the Republican Party that once stood for fiscal conservatism. Rather, Sanford should honor his libertarian penchant by running as an independent.
Why? Because Sanford is talking about something that matters and is being left out of the public debate: The nation's oppressive and growing $22 trillion debt. As a comparison, President Bill Clinton inherited a national debt of about $4.5 trillion and left with a balanced budget and a debt of a trillion more. And back then, the late budget hawk, U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, was hollering his head off about profligate spending. Now it's five times more of a burden.
In orchestrated media forays including The View, the former governor, who once ranked the most fiscally conservative member of the U.S. House, has been rightfully trying to steer the national conversation to the long-term burden of debt on the American economy and way of life. The borrow-and-spend culture that has infected the Republicans and Democrats in Washington is haunting our future. If we don't start doing something about it, America will go the way of Great Britain.
Sanford, of course, is not the perfect messenger. As governor, he had a "my way or the highway" style that irritated the legislature and doomed many of his ideas. At one point, he vetoed the entire state budget. Here's how we characterized Sanford in 2005:
"Based on actions over the past three years, Sanford's idea for a perfect South Carolina would find the state with very limited government, no income taxes, limited roles for public education and little government involvement with job creation. It's almost as if all he would want government to do would be to pick up the trash and police the streets — and both of those things might be too expensive for him."
Underinvestment in the Palmetto State during the Sanford years led to long-term problems with public education, college funding, and more. And then there was the whole Appalachian Trail thing where the nation painfully watched the crumbling of his marriage.
Later redeemed, Sanford won his old congressional seat after the governorship. After Trump took over, Sanford criticized the president's style and substance, which won him a primary opponent and led to the 2018 loss. And now with a lost boy look, Sanford seems to want to use six decades of living to make an impact.
Rather than toying with a direct run against Trump, he'd be better suited to emulate the 1992 campaign of Ross Perot, who passed away earlier this month. The billionaire maverick snared almost 19 percent of the popular vote by talking in frank, easy-to-understand language about — guess what — government spending and debt. While Perot didn't win any electoral votes, he changed the trajectory of the 1992 race and made it possible for Bill Clinton to beat incumbent George H.W. Bush at the polls.
If Sanford runs for president as a Republican, he'll lose in a heartbeat. He'll be a blip on the screen because his Republican Party is gone. No longer the party of limited government and fiscal conservatism, it's been drowned in a Norquistian bathtub by the blustering party of Trump where milquetoasts and yes-men thrive in a lapdog splendor, doing nothing for regular Americans.
As an independent presidential candidate, Mark Sanford can stretch his anti-debt message through November 2020 and make a much bigger impact than getting drowned in a tsunami of red-hat-wearing Trump lemmings who won't hear what he's saying. As an independent, he could be a spoiler like Perot and get the whole country focused on something important — the national debt that is slowly crippling us.
Andy Brack's new book, We Can Do Better, South Carolina, is now available in paperback via Amazon.
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