Staff Columnist

Republican poised to challenge Trump and his $1 trillion deficit

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) questions U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on President Obama's executive action on immigration as Johnson testifies at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) questions U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on President Obama's executive action on immigration as Johnson testifies at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo

With about six months left until the 2020 Iowa caucuses, President Donald Trump has earned another potential GOP challenger.

Former congressman and South Carolina governor Mark Sanford recently announced he is considering running against Trump for the Republican nomination. If he runs, he would join former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and about 100 lesser-known candidates who have filed to run as Republicans in 2020.

Sanford’s campaign would focus on federal spending, and Trump’s failure to address the debt crisis.

“I’m compelled to say the obvious — we’re living on borrowed time. Our present course can’t end well for us and those we love,” Sandford said in a video posted last week.

Sanford was one of the GOP’s loudest Trump critics when he was in the U.S. House. That earned him scorn from the president, who endorsed Sanford’s primary challenger last year. She won the nomination but went on to lose the general election in a traditionally Republican district.

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With Sanford gone, there are depressingly few politicians in Washington, D.C. willing to confront the fiscal status quo.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to eliminate the $19 trillion federal debt over eight years. He later tempered expectations, telling Fortune he would “pay off a percentage of it,” though he declined to specify what percentage.

After more than two years in office, Trump has shown he has either no desire or no ability to responsibly manage the federal budget. The debt now totals about $22 trillion, and there’s no indication it will shrink under the current administration.

This year’s deficit is projected at $1 trillion, the largest ever except for the Great Recession years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Trump’s own Office of Budget and Management expects the deficit will not drop below $1 trillion until fiscal year 2023.

Trump and his allies in Congress are expected to increase the debt ceiling, a measure they pretended to oppose when Obama was in office. That illustrates what true conservatives have known for years — GOP elites only care about spending when Democrats are in power.

Despite mismanaging the federal spending, Trump remains popular with Republican voters. Nevertheless, a credible challenge from a budget hawk like Sanford would provide an opportunity for those of us who are concerned with the debt to debate the issue.

It must be noted that Sanford is best known for disappearing for several days in 2009 while he was governor. He famously said he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but it was later revealed he was visiting his mistress in Argentina.

Infidelity is reprehensible, but unlike the current president, Sanford paid a political price and publicly reckoned with his indiscretions. In his latest video, he acknowledged, “It’s well known that I’m not perfect.”

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Perhaps that baggage and Trump’s confounding popularity with supposed conservatives would doom a Sanford’s presidential ambitions, but it’s a fight worth having.

“Sometimes in life you’ve got to say what you’ve got to say, whether there’s an audience or not for that message,” Sanford recently told his home state newspaper the Post and Courier.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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