The surprise defeat of South Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Sanford last night to a primary challenger, State Rep. Katie Arrington, who made his criticism of President Donald Trump a focal point of her campaign, brought into focus the looming presence the commander in chief has over an already chaotic midterm cycle for the Republican Party.
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Add Midterm Elections as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Midterm Elections news, video, and analysis from ABC News. Midterm Elections Add Interest Sanford’s loss writes another bizarre chapter in a political career full of controversy and distraction.
Forced into political exile after lying about an extra-marital affair he was having while Governor of South Carolina, Sanford made an unexpected comeback in 2011. He won the Charleston-based congressional seat in a special election, and established himself as a fiscally conservative, libertarian-leaning voice and member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Kathryn Ziesig/The Post And Courier via APSouth Carolina Rep. Katie Arrington, who is running for the first district of South Carolina, campaigns after voting in the primary election on June 12, 2018 at Bethany United Methodist Church in Summerville, South Carolina.
The loss makes Sanford the second House member to lose a primary this cycle after Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C. was defeated last month by pastor Mark Harris.
Sanford is also not alone in facing backlash as a Republican willing to voice his criticism of President Trump. Last week Alabama GOP Rep. Martha Roby was forced into a runoff election after a primary contest that centered on her decision not to vote for President Trump following the October 2016 publication of his vulgar comments during a filming of “Access Hollywood.”
Sanford is an outspoken challenger of Trump, but his defiance of the president may have contributed to his upset defeat.
During the 2016 presidential election, after Trump ventured to Capitol Hill to meet with Republicans, Sanford came out of the meeting telling reporters, “I wasn’t particularly impressed.”
“It was the normal stream of consciousness that’s long on hyperbole and short on facts,” he added.
He also thrusted blame onto Trump for increasing divides within the modern Republican party and creating an even more volatile political climate.
Susan Walsh/AP, FILEPresident Donald Trump walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, June 1, 2018.
“I would argue that the President is at least in partially – again not in any way totally, but partially to blame for demons that have been unleashed,” Sanford said in a June 2017 interview with MSNBC.
Aboard Air Force One, Trump endorsed Sanford’s opponent mere hours before polls closed, tweeting, “Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble.”
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. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2018 President Trump reveled in Sanford’s loss this morning on Twitter, saying that while his “political representatives” did not want him to get involved in the race he “had to give it a shot” and endorse Arrington, a one-term state lawmaker.
My political representatives didn’t want me to get involved in the Mark Sanford primary thinking that Sanford would easily win – but with a few hours left I felt that Katie was such a good candidate, and Sanford was so bad, I had to give it a shot. Congrats to Katie Arrington!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018 The stunning upset also drew reaction from across the political world, as the news reverberated around an already unsettled political landscape ahead of the 2018 midterm elections in November.
Former Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.) expressed outrage at Sanford’s loss, noting that the South Carolina congressman “supported POTUS with his votes” from taxes to healthcare to spending.
“Yet because he was willing to honor Article 1 Separation of Powers and speak his mind, he loses a primary? We have entered the twilight zone…,” Ribble tweeted Wednesday morning.
Sanford took his loss in stride during his first ever concession speech in Mount Pleasant late Tuesday night.
“It may have cost me an election, but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president because I didn’t think they would be concurrent with the promises I made when I first ran for office and for the very voices of the people of the 1st District that I represent,” he said according to the Post and Courier.
Her unexpected victory now makes Arrington the poster child for the pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party’s 2018 takeover.
In her victory speech Tuesday night, Arrington embraced the President wholeheartedly and implored the party to stand by him.
“We are the party of President Donald J. Trump,” she said.
In Virginia, Corey Stewart, known for courting controversy and a figure who faced criticism for his response to the violence in Charlottesville, won the GOP primary for U.S. Senate in another result that showcased the sway proving one’s loyalty to President Trump can have on Republican voters.
Steve Helber/AP FILEVirginia GOP senatorial hopeful, Corey Stewart, gestures during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 22, 2018.
Stewart narrowly edged out State Delegate Nick Freitas and earned praise from the President on Twitter this morning.
Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory for Senator from Virginia. Now he runs against a total stiff, Tim Kaine, who is weak on crime and borders, and wants to raise your taxes through the roof. Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
ABC News’ Meena Venkataramanan contributed to this story.