Former South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford

Iowa Press | Episode
Sep 6, 2019 | 27 min

Months of campaigning are already in the books ahead of 2020 but few republicans have stepped up to challenge President Trump. We sit down with one republican Trump critic, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. 


For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, September 6 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. 


Yepsen: President Trump has spent much of the 2020 campaign so far aiming his political criticism across the aisle at a field of 20 democratic candidates. But in recent days there are signs of a potential republican primary race for the presidency. Three republicans have either announced their intentions to run for President or are thinking about it. Joining us at the Iowa Press table is former republican Congressman and former Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford. Governor, welcome to the Hawkeye State.

Sanford: Yes, sir.

Yepsen: Good to see you, thanks for coming.

Sanford: It's a treat to be here.

Yepsen: Across the table are James Lynch, Political Reporter for the Gazette and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Governor, polls show a vast majority of republicans in this country support President Trump. So what are you doing?

Sanford: Well, I think what's interesting in those polls is that about half of the respondents, so you'll get 85%, 90% support, but literally half of the respondents say that they would like to see the President primaried, they would like to have a debate as to what it means to be a republican these days.

Henderson: What does it mean to be a republican?

Sanford: That's the $94 question and that is the reason I'm looking at getting in. I think that as a Republican Party we have lost some of our ways. For instance, traditionally one of the hallmarks of the Republican Party was about financial conservatism, about not getting ahead of your skis in terms of spending and being prudent on that front. If you look at the numbers of late they have exploded and so we're seeing trillion plus dollar deficits going forward, a variety of different things. But you have a thought?

Henderson: Well, we want to get into some of that a little bit later. But what is your biggest beef with President Trump? And do you think he should be impeached?

Sanford: Again, I don't think, no I don't think he should be impeached. I think that's only a political call. I think that is what elections are about. I think it would turn our disastrously for the Democratic Party if you were to go down that route but that the Democratic Party's deal. As to my primary beef I think it is in fact the degree to which he has called himself the King of Debt and has led the party in the wrong direction on debt and spending. I think that the real question with regard to trade, which has again been another hallmark of the Republican Party and what it was about, and I think the real questions of tone and humility and adherence to truth that I think cause people to doubt what he says next which then undermines our standing in the world and domestically.

Lynch: Back in the day when you were Governor of South Carolina you were a rising star in the Republican Party. There was talk about you running for President someday. Then you had this very public and messy extramarital affair. Do you have too much baggage to run for President? Or as Donald Trump sort of eliminated that as an issue?

Sanford: I think we all have baggage. And so I'm not going to harp on President Trump's deficiencies. I'm quite certain that he'll harp on mine, he has already begun that process. But what I know is that in the wake of failure, particularly public failure, you can learn and grow from it. And I believe in the Christian model of repentance and renewal and a chance for a second bite at life and the importance of stepping back out into life on things that you believe in. I think you can do it with an added level of humility and empathy maybe that you didn't have prior to failure. So again, in no ways justifying that chapter of my life, what I'd say is I've absolutely grown from it and that much as a better person and leader as a consequence.

Lynch: As part of the way you handled that situation you lied to your constituents about where you were and what you were doing. Is that even --

Sanford: That's not true so let's begin with that's not true. Something was told -- a volunteer put out a tweet on Buckeye versus Hawkeye State, you own it as Governor. And so somebody in my office said I was out hiking the Appalachian Trail, which was again not true, but again you own it, more to the point I was living a lie at that point, to your point. And so I think the question in the wake of those kinds of things is where do you go from here? And for me it has been a question of yeah, do I have baggage? Yes, absolutely. But I also, again, recognize the fact that I have baggage, recognize the fact that I'm imperfect. I think that's in strong contrast to what the President has said wherein he regrets nothing in his life. I think we can begin to have a real conversation as humans if you accept the fact that you're not perfect and I accept the fact that I'm not either.

Yepsen: Governor, let's turn to a discussion of some of these issues and what the post-Trump GOP looks like. It strikes me that the Republican Party is going to have a conversation with itself either now about what the party will look like in 2024 or he gets re-elected and they'll still have to have a conversation. Either way your party is going to have a conversation heading into 2024 about what it stands for. And so some of these questions we've been talking about already. But is the Republican Party no longer a free trade party?

Sanford: He's certainly not taking us in that direction. It's telling, for instance, take the steel and aluminum tariffs, these were on allies of ours. The idea that Canada is a national security threat is at odds with reality and it begins to, again, undermine an incredibly important relationship that we have to our north. If you look at the supply lines with the BMW's that are produced in Spartanburg, South Carolina or a whole host of other products across this country, they're integrated with Mexico and the idea of, again, interjecting the kind of uncertainty that this President has into the trade equation freezes up investment and if you look over the last couple of months that's exactly what you see in the numbers.

Yepsen: What do you do about China? He says he has to deal with this, do these tariffs because China is stealing our trade secrets. So if you don't want to crack down and do tariffs, how do you get the Chinese --

Sanford: But again, the question is the way in which you do so. So absolutely, does China need to be dealt with? Yes. But I think a much more constructive way to have done that was through the mechanism of a TPP. The deal that we just cut with Japan or the deal that is in the process of being cut with Japan offers us nothing more than we wo9uld have gotten with TPP but the idea of TPP was to say let's create a trading block that allows these countries some other option than simply China. So if you take Cuba as an example, we've had a 50 year embargo there and all that it has really done is to make sure that the Castros stayed in power. Unilateral sanctions don't work, unilateral embargos don't work and unilateral tariffs don't work. I think that you have to work collectively with other countries, which again was what TPP was all about.

Yepsen: Look into your crystal ball, are we headed for a recession?

Sanford: We're headed for worse than that because the average recession out there is driven by inventory imbalances. The really scary stuff goes to a balance sheet imbalance and fundamentally that's what we have. So the fed has worn itself out in terms of exhausting its possibilities that would be ready in the event of a financial storm and on the financial side with the federal government look at those trillion plus dollar deficits anticipated over the next 10 years, we don't have a lot of leeway there either. This is going to be the most significant financial storm that we have seen I would argue since the Great Depression. I would argue it would be greater than what we saw in 2008. It's going to diminish and destroy people's dreams and their hopes going forward if we don't get ahead of this curve because the history of man is if you don't, again, proactively deal with these kinds of numbers and simply wait for the financial markets to do it for you the process is bloody.

Henderson: James and I are out on the campaign trail covering democratic candidates who say that one of the reasons the federal deficit is growing is the tax cut package that you and others in Congress supported. Do you bear some responsibility for the ballooning deficit because of that support?

Sanford: No, because at the same time they will not mention the fact that we're going to run a trillion dollar deficit. So the tax package was a trillion and a half dollars over 10 years. I wrote a lengthy Facebook post at that time talking about how it had pluses and minuses, here's what they were, but at the end of the day it was an educated bet on becoming more competitive in our corporate climate relative to others. I actually made national news when I said this is not a middle class tax cut, fundamentally this is a corporate tax reduction and restructuring bill. And that's what it was. And so it was over 10 years $1.5 trillion. To give you a sense of scale, our federal government over the next 10 years has anticipated to bring in $43 trillion. That's without the tax cut. With the tax cut it will bring in $41.5 trillion. That's a 2% difference. So you could be for or against the tax cut but to say that it's the driver of the deficit situation that we have now before us is at odds with the numbers, which is again about a 2.5% differential.

Henderson: So then how would you cure the deficit then? Would you cut Social Security and Medicare?

Sanford: Yeah, the old fashioned way. First, you have to recognize that we have a problem. It's telling to me that Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when asked what is the biggest threat to our nation, he answers, not the Taliban, not the Chinese, not the Russians, he answers, the American debt. The first role of a President and those in leadership is to say here's the problem and now let's come up with solutions in dealing with it. This President said when he was running for office that if I get elected I will eliminate the debt in the eight years that I might be in office. That's what he said. Instead we've seen numbers spiral. This last debt deal that he just signed adds $2 trillion of additional debt to the national debt and it adds a third of a trillion dollars of new spending over the next two years. He is taking us in the opposite direction. And so what I would say is, and he has said, we will not touch the very things that drive our debt and spending, which is, to your point, it is on the entitlement side. But if people realized that this is a systemic threat to our civilization and to our way of life and to the dreams, hopes and possibilities for our kids, people would get in the boat together. But until they do it's my group versus your group, it's rural versus country, it's republican versus democrat. So I was the author of the Penny Plan. What it says is let's cut a penny out of every dollar of federal benefit to every program out there. That includes defense, that includes entitlements, everybody, if you don't come up with targeted cuts. It forces Congress' hand on targeted cuts. I think it's the right way to start.

Yepsen: Governor, another threat to the country is climate change. What should we do about it?

Sanford: It's one of those problems that does not allow us to exempt India and China. So if you look at the real growth of greenhouse emissions it is occurring in those two countries. I, for that reason, was against the Keota Protocols because it basically exempted the two growth areas. I think you've got to work with other countries. I do think you have to recognize it exists. I believe in science. What you can't say is I believe in science when I go to the hospital in terms of amazing medicine and what it can do for our lives, but I don't believe in science over here. I believe in science across the board. I think that it's real. I've seen its effects on the family farm I grew up on in South Carolina in terms of areas that had trees on it when I was a boy but now are salt flats. This thing is happening faster than we think. It will have ramifications in terms of agriculture in this part of the world or in coastal flooding in my part of the world where I grew up and I think that you, again, have to work cooperatively with other countries. It's a global problem. It cannot be solved by one region or one part of the world alone.

Yepsen: Do you think your party is willing to say what you just said?

Sanford: Sadly not. Again, we're in denial, which I think is a mistake. Again, the first part of dealing with the problem is accepting the fact that you have a problem. This is true on the deficit and government spending front, it's true on climate change.

Lynch: Let's turn to immigration. You have said you're not a fan of birth right citizenship, yet you said you'd leave the dreamers alone. You were for the wall before Donald Trump was for the wall. As Governor your state passed very tough illegal immigration reform plan. What would be your plan to deal with the flow of immigrants coming to this country either to stop it or to process them and get them into this country and relocated here?

Sanford: So, our tough immigration plan back when I was Governor was actually enforcing e-verify which is to say we can't just say we're going to deal with the people as they come in, we're going to actually deal with employers. Are you hiring legal folks or not? And my point to many of the employers as they'd fuss at me was, look, my job is to administer the law, execute the law and this is what it says, I've got to execute it. And so I think that made common sense. I think we want to go back to common sense. I think that some of the debate on the democratic side is a bit bizarre where people are offering free health care and free education and a whole host of different benefits to folks that aren't American citizens, that we have problems with paying for the benefits of American citizens. I think the first things ought to be first there. But I don't think it makes sense for people to abuse amnesty the way that they are now. I do think it makes sense to have a secure wall because the idea of a thousand people walking across your border is to make a mockery of the notion of rule of law and the number of people from other parts of the world that wait in line and wait in cue in many cases for years in trying to come to America and achieve dreams here.

Lynch: When you look at the situation at the border now with families being separated, with people being held in what are described as cages, is that the proper way to handle this situation?

Sanford: No, but again, I think the President has exacerbated the problem here. Again, I think at times he's good at recognizing problems but he's rough on implementation or makes situations worse and I think this is one of them. Because of the acrimony and the amount of caustic stuff that the President has thrown out to different people of different parties there's not one inch of wall that has been built during his time. I mean, inches but they were already in the works, there's not new addition from the standpoint of what he had proposed or has proposed. It has in essence gone backward and you've got mayhem on the wall. I think the border security is trying to deal with it as best they can. But one of the problems I have is we continue to borrow to pay for Paul and so money is being borrowed from categories of funding that would deal with a hurricane that may hit the East Coast this next week, same thing going on with money that was being dealt with for the farmers here, but it's coming out of accounts that go to protect farmers. And I just think there's a lot of borrowing from Peter to pay for Paul. I think he has made the situation worse.

Henderson: What is your view on America's role in the world stage? The Afghanistan War is the longest war in U.S. history. Is it time to withdraw troops?

Sanford: Absolutely because, again, I've taken multiple votes on this front back when I was in Congress and I've spoken out consistently on it, there's a problem with undeclared war. I think body bags don't go back to Washington, D.C., they go back to congressional districts across our country. And so the founding fathers were very deliberate in saying only Congress had the capacity to declare war. And we have gotten away from that in the modern era. He's not unique on this front. But I think it's a real mistake and I Think that we need to go back to the basic here of what the Constitution prescribed in only Congress having the right and privilege of declaring war. It also means the ownership because now it's well he declared and we can't abandon the troops now that we're here and so we've got to keep the funding going and so you end up in an 18 year spin cycle as we've seen with operations in the Middle East. I believe first and foremost whatever operations are should be declared by the Congress. I think we need to come out because our troops have basically worn out their welcome. We went in as sort of a conquering hero liberating and now people are sick of us because you get that many troops in any one place and bad things happen and you build up that much more in the way of suspicion and umbrage.

Henderson: There are a number --

Yepsen: Let me interrupt, I want our viewers to know we're taping this on August 28th to accommodate your schedule and ours. Go ahead.

Henderson: There are a lot of hot spots around the world but just a couple, Iran and North Korea. Are you supportive of the President's approach with the leaders of those two countries in terms of striking potential deals?

Sanford: Yeah, I'm up for conversation. I think it always works. Nixon went to China, it had an effect. But I don't know that this President is going to have that kind of effect given the way in which he tends to lead by tweet. I think a lot of the issues that are confronting our society go more than 140 or 200 and something characters in length. And so while he may embrace and give publicity to a North Korean despot our situation hasn't become more secure there, they have gone on with nuclear testing despite all of the headlines that came at the front end of that conversation.

Lynch: Democrats are having quite a conversation about guns, background checks, red flag laws, assault weapons bans. What would your plan be to deal with gun violence, mass shootings, make people safe in schools, shopping centers and their communities?

Sanford: I do think that the red flag laws make a lot of sense. In essence it inverts the pyramid. Too much of what we do in terms of gun safety is based on sending a message to Washington, Washington sending a message back, we have basically about 10 different categories under which you cannot purchase a gun in America. A lot of people go around those laws and buy illegally. And so I think the idea of, for instance, take Parkland, what went wrong there had been decried, it had been warned, it had been called out by students and educators at the local level and nothing was done. I think it makes sense to reverse the pyramid and indeed to on a temporary basis, just as you'd have with a restraining order for domestic violence, somebody to be able to say there's something wrong here, we need to put up a local barricade. I don't think that's a breach of constitutional right. I think it is consistent with this idea of your rights go until they begin to infringe upon mine.

Yepsen: How does the Republican Party deal with its relationship with the NRA? You've just suggested something that a lot of NRA members don't like. They don't like a lot of things that are proposed about gun violence.

Sanford: But can we go back to common sense though? Again, I don't think -- I've hunted all my life, I hunt with my boys. Again, I believe in the Second Amendment. I've got multiple different votes on behalf of the Second Amendment. But the idea of somebody acting really strange at the local school and not being able to report that and not being able to say, can we go to a local judge, lay out our evidence, again, you can't do it with no evidence but lay out our case and if that local judge says okay, let's put this on ice. That to me makes common sense and it doesn't take a federal remedy. If you believe in the republican notion of federalism that all decisions do not need to be made in Washington that's a prescription that would be a start in the right direction.

Henderson: What about some of the other ideas? The assault weapons ban and background checks?

Sanford: The problem with the assault weapons ban is if you understand guns, fundamentally as menacing as some of those guns look, they're just semiautomatic rifles. In other words, no different than what somebody would have for going out deer hunting here in Iowa. And so I think what gets people ginned up is you can't base it just on menace, you've got to base it based on what the gun would do differently or the same. I think it's also true you've got to look at statistics. Tragically there are about 40,000 people a year killed with guns. More than half of those are suicide. And then out of the non-suicides overwhelmingly most of the gun deaths are actually with handguns, not with assault weapons. The average is about 100 out of the 40,000 that are in mass deaths. And so I think you've got to look at where can we have maximum impact when you look at gun deaths.

Yepsen: Governor, too many issues and not enough time. Health care, a big issue in the democratic contest, a lot of people worried about losing their health care. What should the Republican Party do?

Sanford: I think you've got to keep it contained within, again, what we can or can't pay for. My problem with a lot of what I've heard in the democratic debates, it's a debate of more versus more. And the question is how do you pay for more versus more when you can't even pay for what you've go on the table right now? So I think that I was the author of an alternative to the Affordable Care Act when I was in Congress. It was premised on a couple of fairly simple ideas. It was premised on the idea that what if we gave the same tax treatment to individuals that we now give to businesses so that you're not locked into staying in a job that you don't like, that doesn't work for you but you've got health care benefits so you've got to stay there? What if we had portability across state lines? What if we had that level of transparency that we don't have? What if we had a greater alliance on health savings accounts? I think there are a number of practical things that can be done that don't entail an entirely new program with regard to health care.

Henderson: There are abortion opponents who express dismay that when republicans had control of the House and the Senate and the White House that legislation that would either restrict or ban abortion was not passed. Why? And what would you do if you were elected President?

Sanford: I'm solidly pro-life. I've got a very strong voting record on that front. I think that if there's going to be change it will come at the state level but the courts have already made clear that some of the state level proposals are not going to move forward. I think that whether we -- this goes back to the danger of the way in which the legislative branch has seeded authority and power and control to both the executive branch in the modern era and to the judiciary. I think that there are a lot of tough issues out there whether it's on gay rights, whether it's on abortion, go down the list, that have to ultimately get settled based on a debate of people sitting around the kitchen sink or in the caucuses on where they are. And too much of what we're doing base on not wanting to make a tough call at the legislative body is to hand it over to the courts and let them decide.

Yepsen: On abortion, what about exceptions, rape, incest --

Sanford: I believe in rape, incest and life of the mother, yes.

Yepsen: You would support those as exceptions?

Sanford: Yes.

Yepsen: Governor, suburban women, we're having a big discussion in this country right now, at least in the campaign, about republicans needing to attract the votes of suburban women. Democrats have to get rural voters, republicans need to worry about suburban women. What is your message? How do republicans attract the votes of suburban women?

Sanford: Not the way Donald Trump is doing it. I saw this in the congressional district that I used to represent. The district that I used to represent I was beat in the primary by a woman that was endorsed by the President and her words were, we are the party of Donald J. Trump. And yet then as a consequence for the first time in about 50 years the district went democrat, never happened in 50 years. And why did it do so? Because if you look at the suburban women that you're talking about, in droves they turned out a different way because they said just from a tone standpoint, I may like some of what the President is getting at, but from a tone standpoint this is completely at odds with what I'm trying to teach my kids and same with the young millennials. Many of them said, I don't like mom and dad all the time, but this is totally inconsistent with whatever they've been trying to teach me, I'm outta here. And you look at those two voting blocks, that decided that election. I think if we're going to get serious about reaching out to those folks we have to change with regard to tone.

Yepsen: Governor, I'm out of time. Thank you very much for being with us today, we appreciate it.

Sanford: Pleasure, yes sir.

Yepsen: Thank you for joining us. We'll be back next week for another edition of Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday night and Noon on Sunday. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen, thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.