Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trump Was In Charleston Yesterday-- The Area's GOP Congressman, Mark Sanford, Is No Fan


Early yesterday morning Señor Trumpanzee tweeted "Going to Charleston, South Carolina, in order to spend time with Boeing and talk jobs! Look forward to it." There was a big demonstration against him when he arrived at the North Charleston Coliseum, although the state's moron governor, Trumpist Henry McMaster, was quoted as saying "This may be the single best day in the history of South Carolina, and we have a great and distinguished history." For those who think of South Carolina as a backward red hellhole... well, Charleston is different. Just watch an episode of Bravo's Southern Charm. And though the state went for Trump 54.9% to 40.7%, not just Charleston city but the entire county was Hillary territory. She won the county-- South Carolina's second biggest-- 89,299 to 75,443. All of Charleston County is part of Mark Sanford's congressional district, in fact, the home of more voters, by far, than any of the other 4 counties in the district. People in Charleston are decidedly not Trump people-- not even the Republicans. Trump won the South Carolina primary by 10 points but Rubio won Charleston County. Trump's share of the vote: just 26.4%.

This morning Sanford-- who, after intense pressure from his constituents was joined by Senator Tim Scott-- held a town hall meeting in Mt. Pleasant. It was packed and overflowing... and pretty lively. The first questioner said "I'm not a paid protester" and the whole audience broke out into applause. Early on, a constituent asked the two officeholders if they are proud that they backed Trump and that he's now president. Scott said, "Given the two choices I had, I am thankful." Sanford had a different response: "I think we’re all struggling with it." He also mentioned that "Nobody would agree with Trump’s notion of alternative facts."

This weekend, Politico Magazine has an interview by Tim Alberta with Mark Sanford, I'm A Dead Man Walking. I'm surprised Sanford hasn't been on Southern Charm, although I haven't been watching it religiously and perhaps he has been-- or will be when it starts up again in April. His personal melodrama is right up the show's alley. But Alberta's interview isn't-- thankfully-- about Sanford's extramarital affair; it's about his perspective on Trump's unsuitability to be president.
Most Republicans in Washington are biting their tongues when it comes to Donald Trump, fearful that any candid criticisms of the new president could invite a backlash from their constituents or, potentially worse, provoke retribution from the commander in chief himself.

Mark Sanford is not like most Republicans in Washington.

His policy résumé is beyond reproach to those on the right: He was D.C.’s dashing fiscal hawk during his first stint in the House, and then, after term-limiting himself and returning home to South Carolina, he won the governorship, vetoed hundreds of measures from his Republican-led Legislature and gained fame by refusing to accept President Barack Obama’s stimulus funding in 2009. His political instincts are razor sharp: Sanford has never lost a campaign, which, joined with his ideological mooring, once made him a conservative favorite for the presidency. And his personal failings-- namely, the infamous 2009 affair with Argentinian television journalist María Belén Chapur-- appear to have been forgiven by the people of South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, who sent him back to Congress in a 2013 special election before re-electing him in 2014 and 2016.

All this gives Sanford a unique sense of liberation to speak his mind about a president whose substance and style he considers a danger to democracy. “I’m a dead man walking,” he tells me, smiling. “If you’ve already been dead, you don’t fear it as much. I’ve been dead politically.”

His digs at Trump cover the spectrum. The president, Sanford says, “has fanned the flames of intolerance.” He has repeatedly misled the public, most recently about the national murder rate and the media’s coverage of terrorist attacks. He showed a lack of humility by using the National Prayer Breakfast to ridicule Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on The Celebrity Apprentice. Most worrisome, Sanford says, Trump is unprepared for the presidency.

“Is he an honest man?” I ask.

For the first time, Sanford begins to measure his words. “I’ve got to be careful,” he says. “Because people who live in glass houses can’t throw stones.”

...Sanford’s opposition to Trump, then, was somewhat inevitable. When a chorus of House conservatives took turns fawning over the GOP nominee after a meeting with him last June, Sanford made a point of mocking Trump’s constitutional knowledge. (“Somebody asked about Article I powers and what he would do to protect them,” Sanford told reporters. “I think his response was, ‘I want to protect Article I, Article II, Article XII,’ going down the list. Of course, there is no Article XII.”) When party officials began marginalizing the issue of tax returns after the convention, Sanford wrote a New York Times op-ed calling Trump’s unprecedented lack of transparency “something our country cannot afford.” And when his colleagues returned to D.C. infused with optimism after the Republican ticket’s November 8 victory, Sanford privately warned them to brace for disappointment.

To understand Sanford’s irreverence toward the 45th president, his friends say, you have to understand two things about him. One is his disdain for expensive clothing. “He didn’t wear a suit to his inauguration as governor,” says Carl Blackstone, who worked for Sanford as both congressman and governor, and today is CEO of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. “He would come into the governor’s office in jeans and a ripped shirt. We would entertain legislators at the governor’s mansion, and he would … show up all sweaty having just finished running.”

The other is Sanford’s upbringing. His father, a prominent heart surgeon, “taught his kids that everyone is the same no matter where they’re from or what they wear, and Mark took it to heart,” Blackstone says. “So he’s not impressed by Trump-- or by anyone else. And that gives him the freedom to say what he wants.”

I ask Sanford, in our early February interview, whether it’s fair to say Trump doesn’t impress him. “Yeah, that's accurate,” he tells me. “Because at some level he represents the antithesis, or the undoing, of everything I thought I knew about politics, preparation and life.”

Sanford, an Eagle Scout, has long been renowned for a work ethic that straddles the line between tireless and maniacal. Famously brutal on staff members-- his former speechwriter wrote a book documenting his workplace misery-- Sanford recalls holding marathon meetings as a congressman and as governor to review every intricate detail of budgets, bills and other proposals that came across his desk.

“And all of a sudden a guy comes along where facts don’t matter?” Sanford asks aloud. “It’s somewhat befuddling. It’s the undoing of that which you base a large part of your life on.”

Sanford says he’s spoken with Trump only once, and the interaction was brief, backstage at a primary debate in South Carolina. “I’ve watched you. You’re a winner,” Trump told him, as Sanford recalls. He rolls his eyes. “It’s like, OK.” Sanford swears he has nothing personal against the new president; in fact, he’s heard good things about him personally from several mutual acquaintances. But, he says, he can’t “look the other way” as Trump peddles false information to suit his political aims.

“I believe in a war of ideas ... and I tell the staff all the time: Look, we’re in the business of crafting and refining our arguments that are hopefully based on the truth,” he adds. “Truth matters. Not hyperbole, not wild suggestion, but actual truth.”

...[F]rom a tactical and ideological standpoint, he is already viewed as a leader of the GOP resistance: In conversations since Election Day with leaders of the congressional right, Sanford is universally mentioned as one of the few House Republicans who looks forward to future confrontations with Trump. “Sanford will never back down,” Justin Amash, his colleague and fellow Tea Party troublemaker, tells me.

What concerns Sanford on a fundamental level-- “the danger” of Trump’s presidency, he says-- is that “historically there’s incredible deference to the presidency from the party in power.” He understands the reluctance of rank-and-file Republicans to criticize a president who “has a proven record of taking people down.” But, he says, there must be a muscular check on Trump from somewhere inside the GOP. He was encouraged to see Speaker Paul Ryan push back on him throughout 2016, but equally disheartened to see him willingly subjugated after the election results came in. “I admired his conviction in the campaign,” Sanford says of Ryan. However, he adds, “at the end of the day, radio silence is not sustainable in being true to yourself.”

And so Sanford finds himself, against the longest of odds, not just back in Congress but back in the spotlight-- not as a rising star or future presidential contender, but as a lonely, lucky-just-to-be-here voice of dissent in a party hijacked by Donald Trump.

...South Carolina’s political class is salivating over rumors that Ted Fienning, a Harvard-educated entrepreneur-- who, in addition to being young, wealthy and telegenic, flew fighter jets in the Marine Corps-- will give Sanford the toughest test of his career in 2018. When I reach Fienning by phone, he confirms his intention to run against Sanford in the primary, and says he recently met with the congressman in Charleston to tell him so. “What was his reaction?” I ask him. “Shock,” Fienning replies. (“[I] learned long ago not to try and discourage someone from something they think they might want to do,” Sanford tells me via email, “so [I] simply wished him well.”)

Fienning tells me his campaign won’t focus on Sanford’s affair, but in the course of two phone conversations he makes repeated references to “integrity” and “honor” while taking several direct shots at the incumbent’s personal struggles. “This guy has made international news for terrible reasons,” Fienning says. “I’ve had international news follow me around when I was a United States Marine-- in Bangladesh, Japan and all kinds of other crazy places-- but that’s the kind of news you want.”

Fienning, a co-founder of a popular children’s eyewear company, says he’ll self-fund up to $250,000 in the primary. The question won’t be whether he’ll have the resources, but rather where he’ll find the ideological space to attack his opponent. “He’s a solid fiscal conservative, but you just never know,” Fienning says of Sanford. “People watch NASCAR for the crashes sometimes. You never know what’s going to come next with him.” Sanford’s broadsides against Trump could provide an opening for his primary opponent, but then again, the president is hardly an imposing force in the district: He won fewer votes there in November than Mitt Romney in 2012, according to data provided by the state party.

If there’s a potential weakness on his right flank, conservatives say, it’s that Sanford-- a longtime enemy of government incentives for big retailers such as Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops-- has taken a softer stance on subsidizing other entities. He is known to be cozy with Boeing, a government-bankrolled behemoth that employs nearly 10,000 people in his district, and is currently pushing Congress to appropriate $180 million for the South Carolina Ports Authority harbor deepening project in Charleston. Here again, though, it’s hard to envision how this hurts Sanford at home. “Mark at his core is a libertarian,” Felkel says, but “South Carolina is a state that can’t afford to be libertarian. … His district benefits greatly from the federal government.”
South Carolina's legislature managed to segregate the bulk of the state's Democrats into one humongous congressional district (SC-06). Hillary beat Trump there 66.8% to 30.3%. Almost 57% of the population is Black. Obama beat Romney there 70.9% to 28.1%. But of the state's 6 other districts, it's Sanford's SC-01 that is potentially the most attractive for the Democrats. If Fienning ousts Sanford in a primary, a good Democratic candidate would have a decent chance to beat him. In fact, if Fienning just bloodies Sanford in a primary and Ryan continues overreaching in Congress, Sanford could be very vulnerable to a good Democratic candidate. With Donald McEachin (D-VA) the new regional vice-chair of the DCCC for this region, there's a chance the DCCC could act to find a good candidate where in the past, they haven't been able to find... where to wipe themselves.

In the special election in 2013 that gave Sanford the seat he beat Stephen Colbert's sister, Elizabeth 54-45% and the DCCC followed that up by not running a candidate against him in 2014. In November the DCCC didn't support the Democratic candidate Dimitri Cherny, who Sanford creamed 58.6-36.9% after raising $741,639 to Cherny's $27,562.

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At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it very disheartening that someone feels that Sanford is an asset in the defense against corporatist fascism taking over the USA. That's like the chickens hiring the fox to keep out the wolf.

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, 12:44. It's chicken vs. egg. And Sanford is actually in favor of corporate fascism chicken... and is against lazy, fact-free eggs. kind of. He's also a colossal douchenozzle. His affair was fucking hilarious... except to his then wife.

There can be no doubt that even with a congress full of diligent, hard-working Sanfords, the republic will collapse (from his policies) just as surely as having drumpf just blow it up all at once.

It's just as dead either way.

And, btw, FUCK CHARLESTON AND SC AND BOEING and their fuhrer-fellating ceo. It's fucking SOUTH CAROLINA ferkrissakes!!!


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