Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford

Former governor and representative, South Carolina

Mark Sanford served two stints as a member of Congress from South Carolina, from 1995 to 2001 and from 2013 to 2018. He also served as the state’s governor from 2003 until 2011. In the House of Representatives, he served on the budget and homeland security committees, and both as a legislator and as a presidential candidate he has focused on reining in government spending. 

Sanford earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Furman University and a master’s of business administration from the University of Virginia. He was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

China

Sanford agrees that China is a challenge for U.S. foreign policy but has criticized President Donald J. Trump for fighting a unilateral trade war against Beijing that he says is dragging down the world economy.

  • He agrees that China’s trade practices need to be challenged, but that the United States must do so in concert with allies. “Unilateral tariffs don’t work. You have to work collectively with other countries,” he says.
  • He argues that the uncertainty caused by Trump’s tariffs have hurt consumers and acted as a drag on economic growth. He worries that businesses and farmers who lose market share during Trump’s trade war will not be able to gain it back, even if tariffs are reversed. 

Climate and Energy

Sanford disagrees with Trump on climate change and accepts the scientific consensus that human activity is a leading cause, though he has not outlined a detailed solution.

  • Sanford cites the climatic changes he has observed in coastal South Carolina, saying, “The scientific consensus fits with what I’ve seen firsthand.”
  • In 2017, Sanford joined sixteen other Republican members of Congress to introduce a resolution urging the House of Representatives to “address the causes and effects” of climate change. 
  • However, his proposed climate policies are unclear. He says that he opposes international agreements on climate that give countries such as China and India greater leeway to pollute, and he has voted against carbon taxes.

Counterterrorism

Sanford has criticized federal surveillance and detention policies on the grounds of individual liberty, and he has generally been skeptical of U.S. military commitments meant to fight global terrorism.

  • He opposed the 2003 Iraq War and other U.S. military interventions carried out as part of George W. Bush’s war on terrorism.
  • He opposed 2017 updates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), arguing that the government’s authority to collect Americans’ private communications without a warrant should be limited.
  • He has opposed the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 2016, he voted for a proposal to close the prison, saying the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects was incompatible with U.S. values.
  • He sponsored a 2017 bill to cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, saying those funds were going to support terrorism. 

Cybersecurity and Digital Policy

Sanford’s approach to cyber issues has focused on defending individual liberty and privacy.

  • As a member of Congress, he backed measures in 2017 to limit the government’s authority to collect Americans’ private communications without a warrant.

Defense

Sanford frames the national debt as a defense issue, arguing that out-of-control government spending will bankrupt the economy and therefore eventually cripple U.S. military power. He argues for less American military intervention around the world. 

  • He says the United States must cut spending across the board, though he has not announced concrete proposals. 
  • He argues that U.S. military interventions in Iraq and elsewhere have been “catastrophic,” and he has consistently pushed for greater congressional oversight of presidential war powers. 
  • He says Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan are indicative of the president’s pattern of “optics over substance.”

Diplomacy and Foreign Aid

Sanford has said he would focus on working more closely with U.S. allies around the world, and he has criticized Trump’s unilateral moves.

  • He says that Washington’s allies need “stability and predictability” and argues that “the daily changes of presidential perspective are undermining our standing in the world.”
  • He argues that unilateral approaches to sanctions, embargoes, and tariffs don’t work, and that the United States “has to work collectively.”

Economic Policy

The economy, specifically the national debt, is Sanford’s signature campaign issue. He says that U.S. military supremacy is based on economic supremacy, and he predicts an economic collapse if the United States fails to rein in its spending.

  • Sanford harshly criticizes Trump for rising U.S. debt levels, calling the trend “an unsustainable path.” He promises to cut entitlements that make up the majority of federal spending, including Social Security and Medicare.
  • He calls the national debt a “systemic threat to our civilization” and warns that the United States is headed for another crash, which will be deeper than the 2008 financial crisis.
  • He says that foreign ownership of U.S. debt, particularly by the Chinese, limits the United States’ ability to react to financial crises and could hamper “our ability to project force around the world.”
  • He says that the federal government should not try to collect more tax revenue, and he backs a single flat tax as being “fairer and simpler.” He advocates getting rid of the more than $1 trillion per year in tax exemptions.
  • He opposes the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate of low inflation and full employment and argues that “bettering the economy is the role of Congress.”

Immigration

Sanford has consistently favored a hard-line approach to immigration that prioritizes border security, although he has also supported measures to increase the number of highly skilled immigrants coming to the United States. 

  • Sanford says that illegal immigration “makes a mockery” of the rule of law. He proposes increasing the number of legal work visas, ending family-based migration, and moving toward a “merit-based” immigration system rather than one that prioritizes family reunification.
  • He supports expanding the wall on the southern border and agrees with Trump’s efforts to restrict asylum, saying the system is being abused. However, he opposes family separations. 
  • In contrast with Trump’s assertion that Mexico would pay for the border wall, Sanford has proposed several funding sources, including imposing a 2 percent fee on remittances to Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.
  • He has long been a proponent of E-Verify requirements, which mandate that employers use a federal database to confirm that prospective employees are eligible to work in the United States. 
  • As a member of Congress, he voted for a 2017 measure that would strip federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration directives.
  • He previously voted for a measure that would have blocked Dreamers—undocumented residents brought to the country as minors—from serving in the U.S. military.

Middle East

Sanford has consistently opposed U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and backs Israel as a U.S. ally in the region. 

  • Sanford considers Israel an important U.S. ally and has a record of supporting the country’s right to defend itself, though in 2014 he voted against military aid for Israel because of what he says was his concern over the national debt.
  • He sponsored a 2017 bill to cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, saying those funds would support terrorism. 
  • He opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and voted consistently to apply sanctions on Tehran.
  • He argues that U.S. military operations in Syria require a fresh congressional authorization.
  • He says U.S. military intervention in the region has been “catastrophic,” and he opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, arguing that preemptive war hurt U.S. standing worldwide. He was one of only two Republicans to vote against a 1998 congressional measure to make regime change the official U.S. policy toward Iraq.
  • He has said Trump should apply more pressure on Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

North Korea

Sanford is skeptical of Trump’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea and says he would take a more cautious approach.

  • Sanford says he wouldn’t meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un unless Pyongyang takes verifiable steps toward denuclearization. He argues that previous agreements with North Korea have yielded “nothing in result.”
  • He previously said he was “guardedly hopeful” about Trump’s diplomacy with Kim, but warned that North Korea has a history of going back on its deals.

Russia

Sanford’s brief statements on Russia have focused on criticizing Trump’s warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • He condemned Trump for his 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, during which Trump accepted Putin’s denial of interfering in the 2016 election. 
  • He has argued for Trump’s tax returns to be released, suggesting they would reveal the reason for Trump’s pro-Moscow statements.

Trade

Sanford argues that eliminating tariffs and other barriers to trade should be at the center of U.S. foreign policy, and he promises to reverse Trump’s trade war tactics.

  • He says that “the international trading system, created after World War Two, is vital to America’s foreign policy.”
  • He agrees that China’s trade practices need to be challenged, but that the United States must do so in concert with allies. “Unilateral tariffs don’t work. You have to work collectively with other countries,” he says.
  • He argues that the uncertainty caused by Trump’s tariffs have hurt consumers and acted as a drag on economic growth. He worries that businesses and farmers who lose market share during Trump’s trade war will not be able to gain it back, even if tariffs are reversed. 
  • He also questions Trump’s belief that he can pressure companies to return jobs to the United States, pointing out that global supply chains are not easily reversible. 
  • He supports rejoining Obama’s signature Asia-Pacific trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), from which Trump withdrew.
  • He says ending the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be “catastrophic,” and he opposes Trump’s efforts to renegotiate the pact, saying it would disrupt the economy.

Venezuela and Latin America

Sanford has staked out few positions on U.S. policy toward Latin America beyond the immigration reform proposals he has supported.

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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