With a beef and cheddar sandwich in hand, Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford stood under an Arby's sign on the east side of Des Moines on Wednesday with one simple question for President Trump: "where's the beef?"
"The question of this campaign...is where is the beef in delivering on the promises that the Trump campaign made with regard to helping working folks," Sanford said.
"Where's the beef" was a famous Wendy's advertising campaign in the 1980s, but Sanford said he had a simple reason for why he chose to stop by an Arby's rather than a Wendy's.
"Nothing against Wendy's on this particular day, but I wanted to get a beef and cheddar," Sanford said.
The phrase was famously used by former Vice President Walter Mondale as an effective attack on Senator Gary Hart, who was competing against him for the Democratic nomination in 1984. Hart was leading Mondale in the primary race when, during a debate, Mondale suggested the economic proposals espoused by Hart lacked substance. "When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of the ad, 'Where's the beef,'" he quipped.
The Arby's visit was Sanford's final campaign stop as he wrapped up a four day swing in the Hawkeye State. It was his first visit to Iowa since announcing his longshot bid to challenge President Trump earlier this month.
Sanford stopped at several tables to spend a little time talking to people who were there eating their lunch. He enjoyed his sandwich, curly fries and a coke as he discussed the impact of the president's tariffs with three men who work in agribusiness insurance.
"It has hit us a little bit, as far as people are a little more guarded in what they want to do and expand operations," one man told Sanford.
President Trump had an 81% approval rating with registered Iowa Republicans in a March Des Moines Register/CNN poll. That same poll, however, found that 40% of respondents hoped President Trump would face a challenger in the caucuses.
"It's certainly had its ups and downs," Sanford said about his trip. He said he there was strong support for the president in Iowa, especially in rural areas, but that he also found some fatigue with Mr. Trump.
Competing in the Iowa caucuses takes a large operation of staff and volunteers, where a campaign ideally has at least one person representing it in each of the 1,681 precinct sites. Sanford said he spent most of the trip going into restaurants, grocery stores and other places to talk to people rather than holding more formal campaign events as he tries to figure out whether there is a path forward in Iowa.
"That's a bigger strategic question that I'm going to determine over the next week," Sanford said. "Given the scale and the number of people that are here, the geography involved, is this a state that you can compete in given the fact that I've got limited resources and certainly limited time?"
In a sign of the uphill battle he may face, three Republicans who spoke to Sanford at the Arby's told reporters afterwards that they were planning to support President Trump at this point. At an earlier stop on Wednesday at a farm equipment dealership, an employee told Sanford he supports the Republican Party, but added, "I'm with Trump."
Sanford's final day in Iowa came as the White House announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump. Sanford characterized the call's summary as "very troubling" but said the investigation needs to play. He thinks it's "premature" to say whether the president should be impeached.of a call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
"When you have the President of the United States in essence offering the aid of the Attorney General to a foreign government in their help of investigation of a political opponent, that, in our form of government, is crossing a red line," Sanford said in Ankney, moments after the call summary was released. "I would just encourage my Republican colleagues or former Republican colleagues to look at this and say 'how would I react if a Democratic president was doing the same?'"
Later, outside the Arby's in Des Moines, Sanford said he wasn't sure how the impeachment inquiry would impact the 2020 election, but suggested it could make his race more difficult.
"If there's an impeachment charge against the sitting president, typically the party that's being challenged very much circles the wagons," Sanford said. "I don't know which way the knife will cut. It could make my job that much harder."