Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor and congressman, announced Sunday that he’ll become the third Republican to challenge Donald Trump for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Like the other two, Sanford is an extreme long shot, but that didn’t stop Trump from lobbing an attack over his affair with a woman he incorrectly described as a “flaming dancer.”
On Monday, Trump mocked Sanford for losing his congressional seat in a GOP primary last year (Trump endorsed his opponent, who went on to lose to a Democrat) and for his infamous “hike” on the Appalachian Trail a decade ago.
Despite serving several terms in Congress in the ’90s, two terms as South Carolina’s governor, and then returning to Congress in 2011, Sanford is still best known for disappearing from Columbia for a week in the summer of 2009. At the time, his staff explained he was on a hiking trip. That wasn’t true. Sanford, who was married at the time, was in Argentina with his “soul mate,” Maria Belén Chapur.
Trump, a man who’s bragged about his own infidelity, appears to believe Chapur was a “flaming dancer,” which might be a misspelling of “flamingo dancer,” which might be what Trump thinks “flamenco dancers” are called. But as CNN’s Daniel Dale notes, there’s no evidence Chapur has ever been a flamenco dancer.
Sanford joins former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld and former tea party congressman Joe Walsh in the Republican primary against Trump. And while none of them has much of a chance to dent Trump’s support, Sanford said Monday that, as a bloc, the “Three Stooges,” as Trump labeled them this morning, send a powerful message.
“I think it strengthens it. What the administration is basically said — what the Trump campaign has said is: it was just Bill Weld for a while, it’s a voice crying in the wilderness, it’s — pay it no attention. All of a sudden, when you end up with three candidates and three different candidates saying there’s something wrong with this presidency, what’s going on here is not consistent with the Republican Party that we know about, believe in and invested major portions of our life in, that’s a different conversation,” Sanford told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day.”
Sanford’s being optimistic. It’s not clear that anyone in a position of power within the Republican Party is eager to get rid of Trump. And it’s abundantly clear that his main issues — the debt and deficit — don’t matter at all to today’s GOP. But as someone known for a quixotic journey that turned into a high-profile public embarrassment, Sanford doesn’t have anything to lose.