In South Carolina GOP Primary, Fervent Trump Supporter Katie Arrington Narrowly Defeats ‘Never Trumper’ Mark Sanford After President’s Tweet

State Rep. Katie Arrington hugs supporters as she defeated U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel for Katie Arrington’s results party on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in North Charleston, S.C. (Andrew Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP)

President Donald Trump is crediting his Election-Day tweet in part for the defeat of a South Carolina Republican congressman who has been critical of his administration.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that his advisers didn’t want him to get involved in the Republican primary, thinking Rep. Mark Sanford “would easily win.”

But Trump says Rep. Katie Arrington “was such a good candidate, and Sanford was so bad, I had to give it a shot.”

Arrington narrowly defeated Sanford after Trump tweeted that Sanford had been unhelpful, adding, “He is better off in Argentina.”

That was a reference to Sanford’s surprise disappearance from the state as governor, which he later revealed was to further his affair with an Argentine woman.

Sanford’s loss was perhaps the most dramatic result in primaries across five states Tuesday.

He becomes the second incumbent House Republican to lose a primary this year — the latest victim of intense divisions among the GOP in the Trump era.

Sanford’s voting record is generally conservative, but his criticism of Trump as unworthy and culturally intolerant made him a target of dedicated Trump supporters who often elevate loyalty over policy.

Arrington blasted Sanford as a “Never Trumper,” and Trump tweeted a startlingly personal attack hours before polls closed, calling Sanford “MIA and nothing but trouble … he’s better off in Argentina.”

Even for a political figure with no shortage of confidence in challenging party decision-making, the attack was a bold case of going after a sitting member of Congress. It’s almost certain to make other Republicans even more reluctant to take him on, even as Trump stirs divisions on trade, foreign policy and the Russia investigation.

Sanford said Tuesday night that “I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president.”

Sanford had never lost a political race in South Carolina, and his defeat Tuesday came amid a roller-coaster political career. Despite the scandal over the affair, he completed his second term as governor and voters sent him to Congress two years later.

In her victory speech, Arrington asked Republicans to come together, saying “We are the party of President Donald J. Trump.”

Four other states voted Tuesday, including several races that will be key to determining which party controls the House of Representatives next year.

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SOURCE: The Associated Press, Thomas Beaumont and Bill Barrow