Lindsey Graham Is Running For President For Some Reason

For reasons only he can understand. South Carolina's senior Senator will be entering the race for the White House early next month.

Immigration Reform

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who has never displayed even a hint of Presidential ambition before, will be entering the race for the Republican nomination for President early next month:

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham will announce his 2016 presidential bid on June 1, Republican sources tell Politico.

Graham, 59, has built a reputation as one of the GOP’s most outspoken hawks on defense issues. During more than two decades on Capitol Hill, he’s championed a robust view of how American power should be used, and he’s framed the war against radical Islam as the most important security issue facing America today.

It’s a message he’s likely to continue pushing onthe 2016 campaign trail.

“Ronald Reagan’s policy of ‘peace through strength’ kept America safe during the Cold War. But we will never enjoy peaceful coexistence with Radical Islam because its followers are committed to destroying us and our way of life. However, America can have “Security through Strength’ and I will continue to lead in that critical fight,”Graham said on the website for his testing-the-waters committee.

On some domestic issues, though, Graham has cultivated a more moderate profile. On immigration, in particular, he’s defied the bulk of his party – in 2013, he was one of the key GOP co-sponsors of immigration reform legislation that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. As he’s sharpened his message ahead of 2016, he’s not backed down from his support for that measure.

“If I were president of the United States, I would veto any bill that did not have a pathway to citizenship,” Graham recently told USA Today. “You would have a long, hard path to citizenship … but I want to create that path because I don’t like the idea of millions of people living in America for the rest of their lives being the hired help. That’s not who we are.”

The remark seemed to jab at the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, who said Tuesday, “Make no mistakes: today, not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly or consistently supporting a path to citizenship.”

In the interview with USA Today, Graham took several shots at his potential GOP rivals. On Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who’s taken on the hawks in his own party and pushed a less muscular view of foreign policy, Graham said, “I like him a lot (but) he’s a libertarian. He is one step behind leading-from-behind. At the end of the day, his world view has not stood the test of time and I think he’d be the worst possible person to send into the ring when it came to foreign policy.”

And on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who also co-sponsored the 2013 comprehensive immigration bill but now says the issue should be legislated step-by-step, Graham said, “One of the here helped write the bill; he now says we’ve got to secure the border first. That’s not practical. No Democratic Congress is going to give the Republican Party everything we want on border security until you tell them what happens to the 11 million [undocumented immigrants in the U.S.]”

Graham has been a Senator for twelve years, and served in the House of Representatives for eight years before replacing Senator Strom Thurmond in the 2002 election and, as I said, he has never betrayed any Presidential ambitions during that entire time up until now. He has never been on anyone’s short list of potential Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidates and, to be honest, I’m not sure that anyone had ever really asked him about running for President until he recently started bringing the subject up himself. To that degree, it’s somewhat surprising to see him jumping into the race at this point in the field, especially since it seems apparent that he has no real chance of winning the nomination. In the national polls, Graham is averaging less than 2 percent in national polls, and he’s been such a non-entity that he has not even been included in polling in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, or Florida, but one suspects that his numbers there would be comparable to what it is in the national polls. The only state where he appears to be a player of any kind, not surprisingly, his home state of South Carolina. There, Graham is averaging 12.7% in the polls, which puts him in third place behind Jeb Bush and Scott Walker but still enough to make him worth paying attention to there. Unless he found a way to change his numbers in other states, though, it’s hard to see his campaign being at all credible.

Given all of that, Graham is another one of those candidates who falls in to the “why are these people running?” category. In Graham’s case, though, it’s even more puzzling because, unlike a Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina, he’s not going to end up as a Fox News pundit or making paid speeches to Tea Party groups. As I said when I wrote about the rumors of a Graham campaign for the White House last month, it seems as though Graham’s main motivation for running is to push back against the tide of dissent from GOP orthodoxy on foreign policy represented by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and others, Indeed, Graham seems to go out of his way to criticize Paul on a regular basis, so one assumes that we can expect to see much more of that as the campaign goes on Perhaps he sees himself as a bulwark against the threat that Paul and his supporters pose to the interventionist foreign policy that he represents along with other Senators such as John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, perhaps he thinks that by running he will be able to use his influence and popularity in South Carolina to eventually create a firewall that would stop Paul in his tracks if he did manage to do well in Iowa and/or New Hampshire, Whatever it is, though, Graham cannot seriously believe that he has a chance at winning this thing, can he?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    The weird thing is it’s increasingly obvious Rand Paul doesn’t need stopping. I like Paul on foreign policy better than any of the other GOP candidates and I wish his views represented a threat to the party leadership’s militarism. But not only has Paul trimmed his anti-interventionist sails like crazy lately, he’s had to: the party base’s flirtation with a less aggressive foreign policy ended sometime between Benghazi and the rise of ISIS. Graham’s side already won! He’s just too narcissistic to realize it.

  2. Eric Jaffa says:

    Senator Lindsey Graham on accused-terrorists:

    “When they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them, ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer.”

    A man with no respect for the rights-of-the-accused doesn’t belong in the Senate or in the White House.

  3. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    Lindsey Graham Is Running For President …… channeling John McCain

  4. Mu says:

    Well, this is his one “safe” chance. He’s not up for reelection in 2016, unlike in 2020. And he’d e 68 in 2024. So it’s an easy chance to add “former presidential candidate” to the resume. Or he’s positioning himself for a potential position in a republican administration, I guess he wouldn’t turn down a Secretary of State job.

  5. CSK says:

    Pretending to run for the presidency has become a marketing tool.

  6. Barry says:

    What’s surprising to me is that the GOP Klown Kar is now full again, just like in 2012.

    I would have thought that some people would have taken some steps to trim the roster down to the sane people.

    Not that I mind.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    The press should quit pretending these people are serious and spending ink on their negligible electoral prospects and how they wish to influence policy.

    Two or three of them. Bush, Walker, are in because they or their backers believe they can get the nomination. A few are running for the Veep spot. A few of them, I’d guess Rubio and Paul, are positioning for 2020 when, per Larry Bartel’s formulation, Hillary will be quite vulnerable.

    Most, Huckleberry for instance, are in to peddle a book, promote their brand, and otherwise take part in what is apparently a pretty profitable grift. A few, Fiorina, Santorum, Jindal, are running because they’re otherwise unemployable. Some, like Carson, are delusional. Christie is running on rapidly declining momentum.

    Whatever has motivated Graham to get in, he’s doing it to help Lindsey Graham and no other reason. I would speculate he’s in because running does seem to help a senator in their next election and might help him fend off a primary challenge on his right. Also, I suspect someone offered him a pot of money and why turn it down? I would welcome more informed speculation.

    Unless someone turns up a respectable reason for Graham running, I’m still recommending pointing and laughing as an appropriate response.

  8. CSK says:


    How? You can’t prevent people from announcing that they’re running, or pretending to run, or indeed actually running.

    Look at Donald Trump. Apparently he’s a candidate–yet again. He always seems to time his announcements with sweeps week. Amazing coincidence.

  9. wr says:

    “Lindsey Graham: Because America needs a president even more terrified of everything than you are!”

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @wr: I suppose that beats Dom DeLouise’s line, “Sounds like steam escaping.” as a campain slogan. (Like I said above, the only appropriate response to most of these people is pointing and laughing. Which, incidentally, might help cut down on this nonsense as @Barry: thinks the GOPs would want to do. Graham wants respect, he can act respectably.)

  11. Andre Kenji says:

    That´s not a car. It´s already a bus. And soon it´s going to be a train.

  12. Tony W says:

    I’m a tiny bit sympathetic to Graham’s thinking here. “Geez, look at this group of idiots, I mean – Ted Cruz? Really? At least I’ve served my time, why not throw my hat in the ring?”

  13. Gustopher says:

    @Tony W: What’s a little funny or sad is that they all think that. Each is convinced that he’s not an incompetent fool.

    It took most of last campaign season for the far right to become infatuated with each and every clown and then dismiss them when it became apparent they were completely insane or otherwise unqualified, and then finally settle for Romney. I heartily applaud the Republican Party’s belief that cutting this process short won’t result in nominating one of the crazies.

  14. FredW says:

    I think he is running for the same reason Bernie Sanders is running: to try and introduce their views into the nomination conversation that might not otherwise be heard.

    An interesting exercise would be to take random statements from the Republican candidates on various policy issues and see how many you could link to the candidate. Graham at least (along with Rand Paul on some issues) is providing a different take.

  15. edmondo says:

    He has never been on anyone’s short list of potential Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidates …

    Maybe he’s running for First Lady.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @edmondo: That’s very disrespectful of a sitting senator. Thank you.

  17. M. Bouffant says:

    W/ 20 or so declared or seriously considered “candidates” so far it’s obvious that for the next 10-12 months the media will devote little attention to any Republican Gov. or Sen. who isn’t at least flirting w/ thinking about announcing an exploratory committee.

    And that sweet double-dipping of AF Reserve pay won’t last forever. A respected Senator really should have a well-funded Presidential PAC to draw on in his declining years.

  18. Tony W says:

    @Gustopher: More power to ’em – on to the slaughter

  19. michael reynolds says:

    I suspect the tactical thinking is largely about the SouthCarolina primary. It goes Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and Super Tuesday.

    Iowa goes to one of the nuts – Huckabee, Santorum, Cruz, Carson.
    New Hampshire goes to one of the sane contingent – Bush, Walker, Rubio, Christie.

    Let’s say Huckabee takes Iowa and Bush takes New Hampshire. Who then takes South Carolina? Graham may figure if the survivors of Iowa and New Hampshire are looking weak he can pull it off as a favorite son candidate. Or, he may figure he can tip it to the establishment candidate and score big brownie points.

    But I suspect all that’s not the real story, which is that Graham wants some respect. He’s endlessly ridiculed and parodied, he’s sneered at as McCain’s poodle, and he hasn’t been booked much on the morning shows lately. He’s on the wane and doesn’t like it.

  20. “Ronald Reagan’s policy of ‘peace through strength’ kept America safe during the Cold War. But we will never enjoy peaceful coexistence with Radical Islam because its followers are committed to destroying us and our way of life. However, America can have “Security through Strength’ and I will continue to lead in that critical fight,”Graham said on the website for his testing-the-waters committee.

    Americans were murdered across the globe when Reagan was President and he did absolutely nothing as Commander in Chief to stop it.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    Sheesh, boy do I miss Japan. At least over there the pelicans politicians (damn you autocorrect) understand their only job is to entertain the media and leave the actual running of the country to the civil service.

    The only location I can see for 99% of the clowns running so far is hawking something totally useless on one of the shopping channels..

  22. James Pearce says:

    “Finally, a candidate I can vote for!” said no one ever about the Lindsey Graham announcement.

  23. Franklin says:

    I’m hoping Christie joins the clown car, too. (Or has he and I already forgot?) Anyway, that would make two Republican candidates that understand that climate change is real, which of course is a record.

  24. Moosebreath says:

    “Lindsey Graham Is Running For President For Some Reason”

    I suspect he thinks Obama has started an unacceptably low number of wars and feels it’s time for a change.

  25. Jay says:

    He wants to be the first gay president?

  26. JohnMcC says:

    @edmondo: I wondered how long it would take for someone to have the lack of decency to make a reference to Sen Graham’s supposedly being gay. Stay classy my friend.

  27. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnMcC: @Jay: I’ll repeat my original comment. @gVOR08: to @edmondo:

    That’s very disrespectful of a sitting senator. Thank you.

    Graham wants to be treated with respect, he should behave respectably. No let’s invade somebody, anybody, everybody. No “Everything is worse” under Obama. No Cotton letter to Iran. And no jumping in the back of the Klown Kar. He’s made a joke of himself, so be it.