(CN) – Longshot presidential candidate Mark Sanford dropped his bid Tuesday to challenge President Donald Trump for the Republican party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Sanford blamed the upcoming impeachment proceedings in Washington as one of the main reasons his campaign is now dead.
“I am suspending my race because impeachment has made our goal of making the debt, deficit and spending issue a part of this presidential debate impossible right now,” Sanford said in a statement.
He said “nearly everything in Republican Party politics is currently viewed through the prism of impeachment,” something he did not anticipate since impeachment proceedings have only happened twice before in the history of the United States.
“Donald Trump will prove to be no more than an insignificant irritant in the pages of time. Self-absorption does not fit with greatness or lasting change,” Sanford wrote.
“While all eyes are on the president, and the media and his opponents are seemingly possessed in giving him focus and attention, he can’t kill us. But that which we are ignoring, the debt, actually could,” he continued.
The former South Carolina governor and congressman did not win re-election to Congress in 2018 due in part to getting on Trump’s bad side, calling Sanford “very unhelpful” and “nothing but trouble” on Twitter.
Sanford, 59, spoke out against Trump’s travel ban in 2017 and joined the chorus of lawmakers urging Trump to release his tax returns.
His short-lived campaign was built on a message of fiscal responsibility and for American lawmakers to tackle the nation’s soaring deficit. Sanford said the U.S. is on target to double its $1 trillion deficit in the next decade and that an increasing chunk of that debt is owed to foreign countries like China.
In 2009, then-Gov. Sanford formerly rejected a $700 million stimulus package from the Obama administration’s Federal Recovery Act, making South Carolina the first state to reject the money. Later, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled only the Legislature could accept or decline the money.
The following year, Sanford was censured by his state’s House of Representatives following the revelation that he was taking secret trips to Argentina to visit his mistress. Lawmakers said he brought “dishonor, disgrace, and shame” on himself and all of South Carolina.
Challenging an incumbent president from his own party seemed like a wild task even for Sanford, who acknowledged as much this past September during a panel talk at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Center for Political Future. But he said attention needed to be brought back to the issues he saw as being most relevant to Americans, like debt and fiscal responsibility. Under the Trump administration that is nearly impossible, he said.
“More than anything what I’ve heard from different (House) members is it’s not fun anymore. At least on the Republican side,” said Sanford during the panel discussion. “They would go onto national television and they would think they could talk about their bill or their latest idea and inevitably what they found is they were responding to Trump’s latest tweet.”
Robert Shrum, professor of the practice of political science at USC, said he’s not personally a Sanford Republican but says the argument about fiscal responsibility should have appealed to Republicans in general.
The professor said Trump was always going to be the likely candidate, but Sanford could have appealed to New Hampshire voters with talk about the deficit.
“He had some money but decided not to spend it. If he was going to make a serious go of it, he should have gone on TV in New Hampshire weeks ago to make that message,” Shrum said in an interview.
A CNN/University of New Hampshire poll two weeks ago saw Sanford with just 1% support of Republican voters in the Granite State.
While impeachment may be the national talking point, Shrum said Sanford could have appealed as a candidate who challenged Trump on a broad range of topics. But he first had to appeal to New Hampshire voters, a state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 0.4%.
Two other Republicans remain in the hunt to take the 2020 GOP presidential nomination from Trump. Former Illinois House representative Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, who previously ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 2016, seek to dislodge Trump – who filed for re-election on the same day he was inaugurated in 2017 – from the Oval Office.