Sanford at Harris Teeter (copy)

Mark Sanford returns to his habit of talking with constituents at the West Ashley Harris Teeter in St. Andrews Shopping Center on Friday. "I'm not a guy who slows down," Sanford said. Kathryn Ziesig/Staff

Mark Sanford is comfortable with his loss.

He's less comfortable with where President Donald Trump is taking the country, yet concedes that as long as the economy remains good, Trump's brand of politics may be unstoppable.

He hasn't talked to Katie Arrington since she defeated him in the June 12 Republican primary and has no plans to reach out.

Don't count on an endorsement.

His future after politics remains open: Teaching, getting behind a cause or finding a corporate board to sit on are all in the mix.

Running for office again is not completely off the table, but very few options remain.

Realistically, is it over? "I would say so," he said.

Five weeks removed from the vote that ended his career in Congress, Sanford opened up candidly to The Post and Courier on Friday during one of his trademark stops to meet constituents outside of Lowcountry stores and businesses.

He spoke about Trump, the direction of the country and the political tone that has torn the nation apart in the past 18 months.

He accused Arrington of running a deceptive campaign, particularly in her enthusiastic pre-primary support of offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling, versus her change of heart afterward.

He also refuses to concede that leaving $1.5 million from his 1st Congressional District campaign account unspent was a tactical mistake.

"The formula that worked for me in the past didn't work for me in this race," he said of his infamously frugal runs.

"It wasn't a resources question, it was a mood of the electorate question," he added.

Following are excerpts of the interview that ranged from Congress' reaction to Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and what Sanford predicts could be the accepted spread of political deception as the American norm.

His summation on the president: "He's changed the standard on telling a lie in this country."

Sanford at Harris Teeter (copy)

Esta Geoffrey chats with Mark Sanford about changes she wants to see made after running into him at the West Ashley Harris Teeter in St. Andrews Shopping Center on Friday. Sanford returned to his habit of talking with constituents at local stores around town. "I'm not a guy who slows down," Sanford said. Kathryn Ziesig/Staff

The Donald Trump endorsement Tweet helped Arrington, but was the race already lost?

"The Trump effect. This is not the tweet, it's the effect."

Sanford said that even with his support of some of Trump's agenda, not being all-in was politically fatal.

"The operative question in the campaign became 'are you for or against Trump?' And I would give this nuanced answer. ... I've actually been supportive of his polices but on a handful of issues I disagreed. ... (That's) not a selling message."

He said the "icing on the cake" was the Trump tweet that probably kept Sanford out of a runoff by giving her at least 300 more votes.

Will he support Arrington as the Republican Party nominee?

"I'll get to that when I get to that," he said.

While he said there is no chance he would back the Democratic nominee, Joe Cunningham, Sanford said Arrington's flip-flop on offshore fossil fuel exploration was another example of political slipperiness.

In a Beaufort League of Women Voters forum earlier this year, Arrington said she supported Trump lifting the ban on offshore drilling but has since said she is against drilling off South Carolina's coast.

Her opponents have widely focused on that change as an example of an intentional pivot toward November and facing voters in the coastal 1st District.

"Attempting to completely change her position on offshore," he said, "that's just not true."

Arrington told Republicans earlier this month: "Let me be clear, I do not support drilling for oil off of South Carolina's coast."

On his own deception behind his 2009 affair while governor when his office put out a story that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was actually in Argentina.

Sanford repeated his defense that the public scrutiny at the time ran its course.

"The process worked the way it's supposed to work. I was living a lie at that point in my life and that lie was discovered and there were incredible consequences to me socially, politically, financially, married; I mean go down the list.

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"But that's the way the process is supposed to work with a lie. My objection to the Trump phenomenon is the way in which he has moved. ... He's changed the standard on telling a lie in this country. That's a big deal. And we're walking through this amnesia where we give license to the president not telling the truth.

"And I get the irony of me calling him or Katie Arrington out on that. But I think it's important."

Are Congressional Republicans in trouble in the mid-terms? 

Sanford at Harris Teeter (copy)

Chris Bernat says goodbye to Mark Sanford after chatting with him at the West Ashley Harris Teeter in St. Andrews Shopping Center on Friday. Sanford returned to his habit of talking with constituents at local stores around town. "I'm not a guy who slows down," Sanford said. Kathryn Ziesig/Staff

Sanford said the fears of a few months ago of a blue wave are ebbing as the economy continues to prosper and that the great "carnage on the Republican side" doesn't appear to be on the horizon.

"If that's the case, then it probably emboldens Trump," he said, if the House of Representatives stays red.

Sanford expects Trump's voting base to stay "resolute" as well.

"I think the Trump voter will remain very, very loyal to him and that which he stands for until the value proposition disappears. And the value proposition I think right now is tied to the economy. And I think it goes a completely different way if the economy goes south. But right now, the economy is going awfully strong."

What Congress thinks of Trump's defense of Putin over U.S. intelligence services in regard to 2016 election tampering:

Sanford explained that was one reason he repeated his charge Trump needs to release his income tax documents, to see if Trump's finances are somehow tied to Moscow.

"It's somewhat inexplicable," he said. "So my point was if you want to clear up that which can't be readily explained, one of the steps toward doing so would be to indeed take out the specter."

Trump's Helsinki summit and European tour fit the mold of being counter-productive and destructive, he said.

Of the incivility today, he expects it to get worse, not better. 

Sanford said he understands the origins of the anger in the Trump movement. But said the method now is bent toward destruction.

"The political environment is as tribal as I've ever seen it. It's not about ideas right now; it's about circling the wagons on one camp versus the other and ultimately that's incredibly destructive both to our political system and the viability of our Republic. We cannot survive in the long run as warring political tribes; there has to be something deeper."

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

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