Republican presidential candidate Mark Sanford lugged a life-size cardboard cutout of President Donald Trump across South Carolina on Monday calling on the state GOP to reverse its decision and hold a 2020 presidential primary.

During a trio of press conferences in Greenville, Columbia and outside Alhambra Hall in Mount Pleasant, Sanford accused the state GOP of breaking its own rules by canceling the primary. 

"I don't want to make this my only debate between myself and the president of the United States," Sanford said, gesturing to the presidential cutout.

His campaign staff bought the image for his cardboard crusade off Amazon.

The S.C. GOP's executive committee in a near-unanimous decision this month opted to forgo a Republican presidential primary by citing the estimated $1.2 million the State Election Commission says it would cost taxpayers.

Sanford, who is making Washington spending a key part of his presidential campaign, said the national debate surrounding the future of the GOP is too important for South Carolina to ignore.

He claimed the state party violated its own rules in opting not to hold the vote.

Rule 11(b) states that "Unless decided otherwise by the state party convention within two years prior to each presidential election year, the South Carolina Republican Party shall conduct a statewide presidential preference primary on a date selected by the chairman of the party and this date must be within two weeks after the New Hampshire Republican Primary, or earlier if necessary to preserve South Carolina’s 'First in the South' status."

"Not maybe, not might, not ought to, not could, but shall conduct a statewide presidential primary," Sanford said, characterizing the process as being "the American way."

The appeal comes after Sanford joined fellow GOP challengers — former Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts and former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois —  in a Washington Post op-ed Friday, where the trio called on Republican parties in four states to change course and hold presidential primaries.

According to the results of an August Post and Courier-Change Research Poll, Sanford would be facing long odds in his home state if a presidential preference primary were held. Just 2 percent of GOP voters in the Palmetto State said they would vote for Sanford if he were on the Republican presidential primary ticket.

Sanford said his team is looking at every possible option to push for a primary, with a legal fight being a last resort.

Sanford also said he found the party's aversion to holding a presidential primary perplexing, and suggested it may signal that Trump's support may not be as strong as it appears.

"Why in the world would the Trump adminsitration not be insisting, and the Trump campaign not be insisting, that the primary take place? Because in the world of politics, if you have a chance to lock in a 90 percent win, particularly if you're in the First in the South primary, you do it," Sanford said, adding this might suggest Trump's support could be, "a mile wide and perhaps an inch deep."

South Carolina's Republican presidential preference primary has historically been something of a bellweather in GOP presidential politics since 1980. With the exception of Newt Gingrich in 2012, the winner of the South Carolina Republican Primary has gone on to become the ultimate the GOP presidential nominee.

Sign up for updates!

Get the latest political news from The Post and Courier in your inbox.

The recent decision by the executive committee was not without precedent.

The S.C. GOP declined to hold primaries in 1984 and 2004 while incumbent Republicans sought re-election, and the S.C. Democratic Party opted to do the same in 1996 and 2012 when incumbent Democrats were running.

Sanford said when George W. Bush was running for re-election, though, he had no challengers. Trump, he said, has three bona fide candidates.

"It's an apples and oranges situation," Sanford said.

The cardboard cutout stunt is one Sanford has deployed in the past.

When he was running for Congress in 2013, Sanford took a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi on the campaign trail, where he called it a stand-in for his Democratic opponent at the time.

After the press event, Sanford headed for Democratic presidential candidate event at the Galivant's Ferry Stump. Sanford, as a Republican, would not be allowed to speak at the event but said it was still worth talking to voters about his mission.

Note to Mark Sanford: SC Republicans overwhelmingly say don't run for president

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.