U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford said the GOP’s deep divisions won’t heal until the 2016 presidential election, and he said this month’s shutdown created a set of winners and losers among Republican hopefuls in that race.
“I think (Sen.) Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was relatively quiet in this, and I think it accrued to his benefit,” he said.
“Within Washington, I think Rand Paul was a winner to, let’s say, relative to (Sen.) Ted Cruz (R-Texas), but time will tell,” he said.
“Arguably, some of the people outside Washington, the governors, gained relative to people in Washington. All these things make pretty good 30-second ads: ‘You guys can’t lead.’ ”
Sanford appeared Friday before The Citadel’s Republican Club, where Cadet Ryan Rhodes told Sanford the biggest take-away from the past few weeks’ shutdown saga was how divided the GOP is.
Sanford said he does not think those divisions will be remedied until the 2016 presidential election. “We’re not at the point of remedy,” he said.
Sanford recently joined all his GOP House colleagues from South Carolina in opposing the Senate proposal that raised the national debt limit and reopened government, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott also voted no.
Sen. Lindsey Graham was South Carolina’s only Republican to vote for it, but Sanford declined to say if that vote will hurt Graham’s re-election prospects next year.
“You’re not pulling me into that one,” Sanford said. “Everybody takes their own vote with their own justifications.”
Sanford also served in Congress during the previous government shutdown in the mid-1990s. He said his experience from both events shows how the presidents have the upper hand in these standoffs, partly because the president has a single message compared with the thoughts of 435 representatives.
Sanford said this shutdown differed from the previous version. For instance, in that the staffs of President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich continued talking throughout back then.
“This time, the talks completely broke down” between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner, he said, adding that last time, “The politics were not as hardball.”
One sign of the hardball politics was the White House’s decision to close off open-air memorials, such as the World War II and Lincoln memorials. “All the open-air memorials stayed open last time,” Sanford said.
Early in this month’s shutdown, Sanford took to the House floor to criticize Obama for shutting the memorials down. Sanford noted that he often runs by them at night when no one is there, so he called the decision to barricade them “a picture of political gamesmanship and hostage-taking.”
Sanford said the political fallout from the recent shutdown will depend largely on what happens next.
“If you go to Government Shutdown II — which I don’t think you’ll see — but if you were to and Debt Ceiling Debate II, III and IV, I think there would be significantly greater levels of political impact than a one-off-event,” he said.
Asked if he felt any impact to his own popularity, he said, “Time will tell.”
“I think what you try and do is represent the best you can the majority perspective of where folks are coming from,” he added, “and I think the majority of folks are still very much concerned about us continuing to kick the can down the road on debt ceiling without doing something about the drivers as to why the debt ceiling is increasing.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.