Dave Weigel has a piece about how wealthy Republican donors, especially those in the Club for Growth crowd, are starting to look at Mark Sanford as their potential 2012 candidate in reaction to his consistent defense of limited government and principled stands against the bailouts, the stimulus package, and other aspects of Washington’s economic agenda. Especially interesting is that Sanford has the potential to tap into the grassroots Ron Paul fundraising network, which amassed a $35 million war chest in 2008.
Paul and Sanford had been friendly when both men served in the House, said Paul’s spokesman Jesse Benton, the congressman’s grandson-in-law. “If Dr. Paul voted no on a bill and Sanford voted yes,” said Benton, “Sanford would come up to Dr. Paul afterward and talk it over. He would give a thoughtful consideration to why he’d voted the other way.”
According to Benton, Sanford is one of the only Republicans Paul might outright endorse if he ran for president—and if Paul doesn’t mount his own bid. “He’s the type of candidate that Dr. Paul could get excited about,” said Benton. “A lot of the people from our movement could find a lot to like in Mark Sanford.”
One of the biggest questions affecting Sanford’s chances in 2012 is how he’ll navigate foreign policy issues. In a recent American Conservative profile, Sanford said he was against preemtive war. In 1998, he didn’t vote for the resoltion making regime change in Iraq official U.S. policy. Should he run, GOP rivals won’t be able to attack him on economic or social issues, so they’ll try to pin him as weak on national security. How he responds to those charges will determine whether he can cobble together a coalition of Paul supporters and mainstream Republicans. Should Sanford respond to attacks on his foreign policy views by explaining away his past stands and offering hawkish rhetoric, he’ll alienate the Paul crowd, whereas if he takes his views on non-intervention as far as Paul did, he risks losing support among the rest of the party.
Of course, much of this will depend on what issues are important two to three years from now. Right now, foreign policy issues are taking a back seat to size of government issues among conservatives. If this continues to be the case, it will be easier for Sanford to skate by similarly to the way Bush did in 2000 — present himself as somebody who wants a strong military but opposes nation building. However, by the time the primaries roll around, the world may look a lot different, and a terrorist attack or another international crisis will make foreign policy and national security issues much more important in the GOP primaries. Under those circumstances, it would be difficult for Sanford to unite the Paulites with the rest of the party, because the ideological divisions are simply too great between non-interventionist conservatives and those who support an agressive military response to security threats. If Sanford sides with the Paulites, he risks being seen as a softie by the rest of the party, and yet if he sides with the rest of the party, Paulites will see him as another bellicose neocon. But if he does find a way to navigate national security issues and manages to build a broad coalition of limited government voters, then he’ll be a very formidable candidate, especially in New Hampshire.
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