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U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford responded Tuesday to President Donald Trump's repeated criticisms of him, saying he doesn't understand why Trump is so focused on him. File/Wade Spees/Staff

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford said he's baffled by Donald Trump's continued personal attacks against him, including the president's latest jab during a rally Monday night in Cayce. 

"I don't understand the president's preoccupation and focus on me for a number of days now, on both my campaign and on my representation in Congress," Sanford told The Post and Courier on Tuesday.

Trump traveled to the Palmetto State to stump for Gov. Henry McMaster ahead of his GOP runoff race against Greenville businessman John Warren.

During his freewheeling hour-long speech inside a high school gymnasium, Trump once again took aim at Sanford.

The president went straight for the personal and political jugular when he cited then-Gov. Sanford's 2009 extramarital affair, an incident in which Sanford lied about "hiking the Appalachian Trail" when he was really on a trip to Argentina to see his mistress.

After Trump told the crowd "I can't stand that guy," he then brought up the affair but got the reference wrong.

"The Tallahassee Trail — must be a beautiful place. Unfortunately, he didn't go there," Trump said.

Sanford said he was on the House floor when Trump made the comment, but he questioned whether the president mixed up his words or whether the botched phrase was an attempt to continue an old punchline.

"I can't judge another man's heart or what he has on his mind, but I have to wonder whether there is a method to the madness," Sanford said.

The latest remarks from the president — this time in Sanford's home state — continues the president's public bashing of Sanford, a fellow Republican.

The House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group Sanford is a member of, tweeted out a defense of their fellow member following the president's latest attack. It described Sanford as "a strong, independent voice" for South Carolina's coastal 1st Congressional District.

The House Freedom Caucus met Monday, which marked the first time the group had gathered since Trump last week made fun of Sanford in a closed-door meeting with House Republicans.

Some members of Congress reportedly booed the president for his comments. Trump denied the reports, tweeting the following day that Republicans "applauded and laughed loudly" when he picked on Sanford.

The Hill reported Tuesday that the attacks on Sanford had one lawmaker almost threatening to quit the caucus over its muted response to the president’s repeated criticisms.

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Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., pressed fellow members to more forcefully defend Sanford. Amash was yelling to the point that he was overheard by reporters outside the meeting room, The Hill reported.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to be a part of a group that won’t stick up for its own,’ ” one GOP lawmaker who attended the meeting told The Hill. “He sort of threatened departure.”

Before the primary this month, Sanford had repeatedly and publicly taken aim at Trump. It was a stance Sanford paid for politically when Republican Katie Arrington defeated him two weeks ago and won the GOP nomination in the 1st District race.

Despite his public disagreements with the president, Sanford took issue with describing their differences as an ongoing feud.

"A feud would suggest the Hatfields and McCoys," Sanford said, referring to an infamous quarrel between a pair of Appalachian families.

Instead Sanford said he would characterize what has been going on between him and Trump with a different term: "assault."

Sanford said he has not reached out to the White House since he lost his election but pointed out that he has voted in line with Trump more often than not.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.