COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed former South Carolina lawmaker Katie Arrington over first-term Rep. Nancy Mace in a GOP primary that tests his heft in the state.
In a statement, Trump called Arrington “a true Republican” with his “Complete and Total Endorsement” for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.
Trump called Mace — whom he endorsed in 2020, and who worked for his 2016 campaign — “an absolutely terrible candidate” whose “remarks and attitude have been devastating for her community, and not at all representative of the Republican Party to which she has been very disloyal.”
Arrington — who ousted Rep. Mark Sanford in a 2018 GOP primary, only to lose the general election — launched her primary challenge to Mace Tuesday. In a launch video, Arrington called Mace “a sellout” who “is more interested in being a mainstream media celebrity than fighting for the people she is supposed to represent.”
Referencing some of Mace’s recent legislative efforts, including bills to protect large cats and legalize marijuana, Arrington then asked, “Is Nancy Mace high?”
Arrington’s primary defeat of Sanford marked his first-ever electoral loss after two stints in Congress and eight years as South Carolina’s governor.
Arrington had made an issue of Sanford’s unvarnished criticism of the then-president, calling him a “Never Trumper.” Hours before polls closed, Trump endorsed Arrington on Twitter, saying Sanford is “nothing but trouble.”
Arrington went on to narrowly lose to newcomer Joe Cunningham, a Democrat who flipped the district from red to blue for the first time in decades. At the time, she blamed Sanford for her loss and vowed to seek the seat again. In his statement Wednesday, Trump referenced a car crash in which Arrington was injured ahead of the general election, saying it “made it very difficult for her to campaign.”
Two years later, backed by Trump, Mace defeated Cunningham, swinging the district back into Republican control. But after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, she went on TV to criticize Trump for his role in the day’s events, saying the president’s accomplishments in office “were wiped out in just a few short hours.”
Trump responded in November, soliciting “any interest from good and SMART America First Republican Patriots” to run against a list of sitting House Republicans, including Mace.
Many of the candidates Trump has endorsed across the country have received that backing after making public statements about the 2020 presidential election having been rigged so Trump would lose.
“Yeah, I do believe it was stolen,” Arrington said Tuesday when asked about the election. She added that she felt Joe Biden had been “duly elected” president, but only because members of Congress had been too hasty to certify the election results, rather than send them to states for audit.
The election was not stolen and was certified as fair and legitimate by state electoral officials across the country who investigated the Trump campaign’s complaints and found them systematically groundless. Dozens of state and federal courts also rejected the claims.
An Associated Press review of every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states disputed by Trump found fewer than 475 — a number that would have made no difference in the 2020 presidential election. The review also showed no collusion intended to rig the voting.
Since her 2018 loss, Arrington has worked for the Defense Department as a chief information security officer. Her security clearance was suspended last year and she was placed on administrative leave as “a result of a reported Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information and subsequent removal of access by the National Security Agency,” according to a memo confirmed at the time by her attorney.
Arrington told the AP she resigned that post this week, saying she felt the agency had been “politicized” and Biden administration officials didn’t want a “Trump-era conservative leading a national effort.”
Trump’s endorsement puts him in direct conflict with Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who served as his U.N. ambassador and, like Trump, is reportedly mulling a 2024 presidential bid. This week, Haley announced her support for Mace, saying she would raise money on her behalf.
“I’ve supported the America First Agenda and fiscally conservative policies since day 1 and will continue to do so,” Mace said in a statement to the AP Wednesday night. “I plan to win and continue to serve the First District.”