Rep. Mark Sanford, a vocal critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, lost his South Carolina congressional seat Tuesday hours after the president injected himself into the bitter Republican primary by stoking memories of the incumbent’s public extramarital affair seven years ago.
In the most dramatic result in primaries across five states, Sanford was the second incumbent House Republican to lose a primary this year — the latest victim of intense divisions among the Republican party in the Trump era. Though he has a generally conservative voting record, his criticism of Trump as unworthy and culturally intolerant made him a target of the president’s most dedicated supporters, who often elevate loyalty over policy.
Sanford was defeated by state Rep. Katie Arrington , who spent her campaign blasting Sanford as a “Never Trumper.” And hours before polls closed, Trump posted a startlingly personal attack on Twitter, calling Sanford “very unhelpful.”
“He’s MIA and nothing but trouble,” Trump continued. “He is better off in Argentina.”
The swipe was a reference to Sanford’s unexplained disappearance from the state in 2009, which he later said was part of an affair he was carrying on with a woman in Argentina.
State Rep. Katie Arrington hugs supporters as she defeated U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford in a South Carolina primary.(Andrew Whitaker/The Post and Courier/Associated Press)
Even for a political figure with no shortage of confidence wading into his own party’s decision-making, Trump’s attack on Sanford was a bold case of going after a sitting member of Congress. It’s almost certain to make other Republicans even more reluctant to take him on, even as Trump has stirs division on trade, foreign policy and the Russia investigation.
In his remarks Tuesday night, Sanford was unbowed, saying, “I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president.”
Sanford had never lost a political race in South Carolina and his defeat Tuesday was an abrupt end to a roller-coaster political career that included a resignation as South Carolina’s governor following his admission of the affair.
After declaring victory Tuesday, Arrington asked Republicans to come together. And she reminded them who she thinks leads them: “We are the party of President Donald J. Trump.”
Four other states voted Tuesday, including several races that will be key to determining which party controls the House of Representatives next year.