(Bloomberg) -- Representative Mark Sanford said the implications of his loss in a Republican primary contest last week go well beyond that race, and cautioned against the “tribal” nature of President Donald Trump’s support.
“The number of people who will say privately to you, ‘This is as tribal as I’ve seen it in my life,’ but then publicly, will say the kind of things that you just saw on air is remarkable,” Sanford said in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” after reviewing comments from fellow lawmakers about the need for loyalty to Trump.
The three-term congressman and former governor of South Carolina said he’d realized speaking out against the president could cost him, adding that Trump “had a hand” in his loss to Katie Arrington, who’d vowed to be more supportive of the president if elected.
Trump tweeted about Sanford hours before polls closed in the June 12 primary election, saying he’d “been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble.”
Sanford, 58, said his voting record showed he’d actually been supportive of most of Trump’s policies, and that he’d disagreed on only a handful based on his own voters’ views, his previous campaign promises, and what he considered consistent with the idea of limited government.
“This was not about policy, it was about personal loyalty. And that’s where I think this race has much greater implications,” Sanford said, according to a transcript provided by the network.
‘Debate and Dissent’
“The premise of the institutional set up that our Founding Fathers gave us was on vigorous debate and dissent, not a loyalty test to a person, but a loyalty test to the Constitution and the ideas that we might hold as a Republican or a Democrat,” he said.
Sanford said the so-called “Trump phenomenon” has an added dimension he’d never heard of before in any of his races. “It has morphed or metastasized into something that is quite different about this larger loyalty to the president himself,” Sanford said.
Cautioning that there seems to be no seeming consequence to anything said by by the president, Sanford said “if we accept that as a society, it is going to have incredibly harmful consequences in the way that we operate going forward.”
Among the biggest critics of Trump within the Republican Party are lawmakers who are heading for the exits, including Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, and now Sanford.
Corker, who is not seeking re-election, last week said fellow Republicans were afraid to speak out even when Trump goes against long-held party positions on subjects such as a commitment to free trade.
Responding to a question about Corker’s comments around the “cult-like situation” within the party, Sanford said “I wouldn’t go so far as cult, but I would just say that, from an electoral sense, people are running for cover because they don’t want to be on the losing side of a presidential tweet.”
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