Politics

Trump Gloats Over Sanford Loss, Puts Kaine On Notice

President declares there is ‘no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea’

President Donald Trump answers questions during a news conference on Tuesday following his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump roared back into Washington Wednesday morning in fitting fashion: with a tweetstorm mocking GOP Rep. Mark Sanford and lashing out at Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.

Those social media posts followed others during his lengthy journey from Singapore in which he continued to lavish praise on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But Trump saved his first two tweets while back in the National Capital District’s airspace for the now-departing South Carolina congressman — and his opposition of Sanford exposed a rare chasm between himself and conservative Republicans.

Trump took what amounted to a victory lap Wednesday morning, suggesting his tweet just hours before the polls closed in the Palmetto State helped state Rep. Katie Arrington defeat Sanford in their GOP primary, 51 percent to 47 percent, according to The Associated Press.

The president and his political team have wrestled with just how involved he should get in Republican primaries. For the most part, Trump has stayed in the background.

[South Carolina’s Mark Sanford Falls in GOP Primary]

But that changed Tuesday afternoon when the president, flying from Singapore to Guam on Air Force One for a refueling stop, tweeted Sanford had been “very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA,” adding: “He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina,” a reference to a trip the then-South Carolina governor took that exposed an extramarital affair and forced him to resign.

Watch: Corker Chastises Fellow Republicans for Blocking His Tariff Amendment

On Wednesday morning as he was about to touch down at Joint Base Andrews near Washington, Trump acknowledged that his political advisers had pressed him to stay out of the South Carolina primary, “thinking that Sanford would easily win.”

But as the executive jet flew over the Pacific Ocean, the president — as he often does — bucked that advice.

“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,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Congrats to Katie Arrington!”

Sanford has said in several interviews in recent months that the tenor of his town halls and other campaign events in his coastal 1st District had shifted, with voters using expletives and saying if Trump can say anything he wants, they can, too.

Shortly after the president’s Tuesday tweet, senior conservative GOP members rallied around Sanford.

“I support Mark Sanford for his re-election,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters. GOP Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the group’s founding chairman, also expressed his support for Sanford, saying, “I hope he wins.” But, notably, both offered careful responses, appearing eager to avoid upsetting Trump.

Sanford was not the only sitting member to receive the Trump Twitter treatment as the head of the Republican Party — clearly on a high from his historic meeting with the North Korean leader — returned to the White House.

Trump congratulated Corey Stewart, his onetime Virginia campaign chairman and an immigration hardliner, for winning a GOP primary that will put him against incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.

The president has been back to his name-calling ways lately, and kept it up Wednesday, calling the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee “a total stiff.” He also dubbed Kaine “weak on crime and borders,” alleging he wants to “raise your taxes through the roof.”

Most widely respected election analysis shops, including Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales, are forecasting Kaine’s reelection in the commonwealth. But the president suggested otherwise in his tweet: “Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!”

After Air Force One was on the ground, the president continued what he is selling as a victory lap following the Kim summit.

He said Americans should “feel much safer than the day I took office” because there is “no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Though former national security and foreign policy officials, echoed by congressional Democrats, say he gave up much and got little in return from Kim, Trump described their summit as “an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”

Democratic members on Tuesday said Trump handed Kim a public relations win and gave up major concessions like ending annual military exercises with South Korea.

[‘Beast’ Mode: Democrats Worry Kim Is Playing Trump]

The president the next morning sold his trip as key to avoid an armed conflict with the North, saying before he was sworn in “people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea.” But on Wednesday morning, the president declared “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” He advised Americans to “sleep well tonight!”

But Democratic lawmakers and experts warn the vague agreement he and Kim signed does not cover potential verification processes and timetables. What’s more, the tweets contradict Trump’s own comments during a Tuesday news conference in Singapore, during which he acknowledged inking a final deal is months and several rounds of negotiations away — which he described as an “arduous” process.

He told reporters on Air Force One he trusts Kim, even though he on Tuesday left open the possibility that he had misread his North Korean counterpart.

“I may be wrong,” Trump acknowledged near the end of the news conference. “I may stand before you in six months and say ‘I was wrong.’ I don’t know whether I’d ever admit that. I’ll find some kind of excuse.”

— Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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