Republican Mark Sanford drops out of presidential race

Nicholas Wu

Two months after he entered the race, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has ended his long-shot bid for president. 

Sanford, a Trump critic, failed to catch traction in the Republican primary, where President Donald Trump remains popular. 

"It was a long shot, but we wanted to try and interject this issue, how much we're spending, into the national debate which comes along once every four years," he said Tuesday in New Hampshire outside the statehouse. "I don't think on the Republican side there's any appetite for a serious nuanced debate with impeachment in the air."

Sanford had run a campaign based on settling the national debt, and had told the Greenville News, part of the USA TODAY Network, his entry into the race was not about settling a score with the president. 

"This isn't about weakening the president or electing Democrats," Sanford said when he entered the race at the beginning of September. "In political movements, people circle the wagons. That's never been my personal style of politics."

Sanford called the national debt a concern "at the core of my being." He found his conservativism at odds with Trump and became a vocal critic of Trump during his time as a congressman. 

Trump backed Sanford's primary challenger in 2018, causing Sanford to lose his seat in the U.S. House.

"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 on Twitter the day South Carolinians went to the polls, making a reference to Sanford's notorious extramarital affair while governor. 

Sanford had faced calls for his own impeachment as governor in 2009 after he disappeared for a week to engage in an affair in Argentina while telling his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The two other major Republican candidates running against Trump, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Rep. Joe Walsh, have struggled to break through with Republican voters.

A USA TODAY/Suffolk poll from the beginning of November showed Trump at 85% among Republicans, Weld at 2%, and Sanford and Walsh at 1%. 

Several state Republican parties also have canceled their primaries, making it even harder for a Republican to compete with Trump. 

Contributing: Christal Hayes and Kirk Brown, USA TODAY; The Associated Press