MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. — The Republican lawmakers stood with fixed smiles, shifting in place, facing down turmoil but no trial inside a municipal courtroom overstuffed with constituents.
Across the room, the first questioner foretold a long Saturday morning: “Are you personally proud,” the man, Ernest Fava, 54, asked, referring to President Trump, “to have this person representing our country?” The 200-odd attendees stirred.
Senator Tim Scott tried first. “Given the two choices I had, I am thankful that Trump is our president,” he said, to ferocious boos.
“You’re not proud!” a woman shouted. “You’re not proud.”
With the waters tested, Representative Mark Sanford waded in. “I think we’re all struggling with it,” he said of Mr. Trump’s tumultuous first month, to nods.
As members of Congress return home during a legislative recess most Republicans are dreading, a hearty few on Saturday charged headlong into the resistance. At events across the country, lawmakers have strained to quell the boiling anger at Mr. Trump — and often, the Republican Party — after four extraordinary weeks.
Some have fared better than others. In North Harmony, N.Y., Representative Tom Reed confronted what felt like interminable jeers, navigating hostile questions about abortion rights, efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and potential conflicts of interest for Mr. Trump. The crowd at a senior center was so large that the event was moved to the parking lot outside. Chants of “Do your job!” rang out.
“What I have heard is passion,” Mr. Reed said. “What I have heard is democracy.”
In South Carolina, the twin billing allowed for a real-time comparison in how to handle Trump queries. The town hall-style event was organized by Mr. Sanford’s office in conjunction with Indivisible Charleston, the local chapter of a national organization founded on the stated goal of “resisting the Trump agenda.”
The result, predictably, was a tough room, particularly for Mr. Scott, a late addition to the event and a Republican less willing than Mr. Sanford to criticize Mr. Trump.
“May I finish?” Mr. Scott asked repeatedly, as attendees interrupted his answers defending dismantling the Affordable Care Act.
At one point, Mr. Sanford offered a lifeline. “Can I interject for a second?” he asked.
“Oh, please,” Mr. Scott replied.
At times in Washington, Mr. Sanford can seem like a caucus of one. In a city with a dress code, he disdains formal wear. In a party inclined to forgive Mr. Trump his indiscretions, he is perhaps the congressional Republican least bashful about disparaging him. And while he is not the only member of Congress to pursue an extramarital affair, he is almost certainly the first to turn “hiking the Appalachian Trail” into a euphemism for all time.
But the fallout from that episode — the disappearance to Argentina to visit his mistress, the wrenching public confession upon his return, the journey from possible presidential contender to political pariah to humble congressman — appears to have left him more eager than most to sort through uncomfortable truths.
So it was on Saturday, in a moment of boiling anger on the left and skittishness among many Republican lawmakers to face their own constituents, that Mr. Sanford seemed inclined once more to embrace his inner masochist.
“They’re down to watch me become a human piñata,” he said Friday night, gesturing to two reporters trailing him at a festival in Charleston, S.C. “It’s like Nascar. They’re just waiting for the car wreck.”
There was no car wreck, precisely. Mr. Fava, the initial questioner, said Mr. Sanford “did good” in his answer. At times, people nodded to Mr. Sanford’s gentle dissenting, particularly when he railed against Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.
“Show me how many Republicans are going out there asking for Donald Trump’s tax returns,” Mr. Sanford pleaded.
Much more often, though, he slogged through questions about health care, immigration and, in at least one instance, word choice.
“Irregardless — ” Mr. Sanford began, during a debate on pre-existing conditions.
“Irregardless is not a word!” a man cried.
“Regardless,” Mr. Sanford amended.
By then, about an hour after starting, Mr. Sanford had gone outside to address a crowd beside a football field. Mr. Scott said he had to leave to attend a funeral.
Several constituents expressed gratitude that the two had bothered to come in the first place. One young woman, greeting Mr. Scott afterward, said she hoped to pursue public service herself.
“You still want to be in government?” he asked with a smirk, gesturing toward the masses.