WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford says he won’t support GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump if he becomes the party’s nominee.
“Not that political views mean anything in this year, but because I believe in constitutionally limited government, his candidacy is one I certainly can’t support,” Sanford, R-S.C., told The Wall Street Journal in an email, the newspaper reported Tuesday.
Sanford, who represents the 1st District, is the first member of the South Carolina congressional delegation to say he won’t back his party’s ticket if Trump wins the delegate count.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who last week called Republicans supporting Trump “bats*** crazy,” told reporters to ask him “after the convention” whether he’d vote for the billionaire businessman. The state’s other senator, Republican Tim Scott, said he wasn’t entertaining a hypothetical because he believes Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will cinch the nomination.
Sanford may also be the only member of Congress running for re-election who has said publicly he’ll disassociate with Trump. Other defectors are Republican Reps. Scott Rigell of Virginia and Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, both of whom have more leeway to say what they want because they are retiring at the end of this term.
Sanford made a surprise endorsement of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the afternoon before the South Carolina Republican primary. His decision to show up at a Cruz rally unannounced was a last-minute “mental calculation,” he told The Post and Courier.
“Midweek, Joe Scarborough asked me to come by the event he was doing with Trump,” Sanford said of Scarborough, a TV news personality with whom Sanford served in the U.S. House in the 1990s.
“I listened carefully. Then there was a CNN town hall thing with Trump again, and it just really hit me: I like what he’s getting at, but I really don’t like the way he’s getting at it,” Sanford continued. “And it just hit me that, ‘wait a minute, the plane is about to leave on Saturday and you’re not even going to give your opinion as to who you think would be best?’ And in my case, it was stopping the Trump phenomenon.”
Sanford said there were ways in which he identified with Trump, another “political outsider,” but there were certain things he couldn’t get past.
“You hear some of this kind of stuff,” Sanford said, “and I find it frightening.”
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.