President Donald Trump tweeted his support Tuesday for the primary challenger to a sitting Republican lawmaker and member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Less than three hours before polls close in South Carolina, Trump took aim at GOP Rep. Mark Sanford, who’s facing his toughest primary challenge yet in the 1st District. Trump endorsed GOP state Rep. Katie Arrington, who’s attacked Sanford for being too critical of the president.
“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina,” Trump wrote.
“I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!” Trump tweeted.
Trump was referring to then-Gov. Sanford’s 2009 disappearance, when his office said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail but he was actually visiting his mistress in Argentina.
Arrington welcomed Trump’s endorsement Tuesday afternoon. “I look forward to working together with him to drain the swamp and continue making America great again,” she said in a statement.
Sanford has been outspoken against the president, disagreeing with the administration on tariffs and offshore drilling. More than most Republicans in Congress, he’s also called out the president for his rhetoric, saying he was “partially to blame” for the kind of incivility that led to the shooting at the GOP Congressional baseball team’s practice last year.
Sanford has also split with own party, perhaps most notably in this coastal district, on human contributions to climate change. “I believe human activity is having a measurable effect on the environment,” he wrote in a 2007 Washington Post op-ed.
Arrington has argued that Sanford stakes out positions just to be contrarian.
“He keeps going against the president, doesn’t he?” Arrington said in an interview in the district with Roll Call last fall.
Climate change is something that has happened naturally, that’s why we are not living on ice anymore. It will go around and come around,” Arrington said.
Arrington has poured about $430,000 of her own money into challenging Sanford, arguing that he has become a creature of Washington, D.C., more eager to hear himself criticizing Trump on TV than to get things done in Congress. She simultaneously’s hit the Freedom Caucus member for not securing more federal funding for infrastructure for the district and for not being a real fiscal conservative.
The challenge has forced Sanford to spend on TV advertising for the first time in five years. He attacked Arrington for voting for South Carolina’s gas tax in one of his TV spots. His other ads tout him as someone who wants to secure the border and “build the wall.” FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots have stood with the incumbent.
Despite trying to run to Sanford’s right, Arrington told Roll Call last fall she would not join the Freedom Caucus.
“I’m a Republican. I think our party is so fractionalized that we need to come back together,” she said.