Lindsey Graham Says He’s Thinking About Running For President

It has nothing to do with winning, but it does have a lot to do with the foreign policy debate inside the Republican Party.


Fresh off a decisive primary victory over a Tea Party backed challenge that failed miserably, and no doubt motivated by the public attention that the war against ISIS is bringing to foreign policy, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham says he’s thinking about running for President:

In a recent, hour-long interview, Lindsey Graham said if he is reelected to the Senate in November, he will begin exploring a bid for the presidency.

Graham has long been one of the most active and outspoken hawks in Congress. He has been a voluble critic of the Obama administration on a wide variety of national security issues—Guantánamo Bay, Benghazi, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Russia, Iran, and others. Unlike many of his colleagues, Graham often first seeks to engage the administration privately as it debates policy with the hope that he can help shape the outcome rather than just criticize it after the fact.

But Graham no longer trusts Obama enough to engage him on these matters.

In our interview, Graham repeatedly spoke of the challenges that will face the next president because of the mistakes made under Obama. And he suggested that he might just be the one to fix them.

“If I get through my general election, if nobody steps up in the presidential mix, if nobody’s out there talking​—​me and McCain have been talking​—​I may just jump in to get to make these arguments,” Graham said.

I asked Graham about Rubio. Hasn’t he been making many of the arguments you’d be likely to make? Graham wasn’t impressed. “He’s a good guy, but after doing immigration with him—we don’t need another young guy not quite ready,” said Graham. “He’s no Obama by any means, but he’s so afraid of the right, and I’ve let that go.”

McCain likes what he sees in the emerging GOP field, but acknowledges that he’s told Graham to think about running. “I’ve strongly encouraged him to give it a look. I think Lindsey has vast and deep experience on these issues that very few others have. I happen to like a lot of these guys—I like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie. Ted Cruz has gone out of his way to tell people how much he agrees with me on national security.” And Rubio?

“He’s articulate, intelligent, and has all the right instincts. He doesn’t have the background that Lindsey does, but he’s probably as articulate as anyone in our party. I’ve watched him carefully on the Foreign Relations Committee—he’s excellent. Very impressive.”

Daniel Larison wants nothing to do with it, and calls Graham the embodiment of everything wrong with the GOP:

Graham is kidding himself if he thinks he could be the nominee, so I’m not sure what the point of this would be. The likely 2016 field will already be filled with reliably hawkish candidates. Graham distinguishes himself from that field in that he has never encountered a foreign intervention that he didn’t like and by being wildly out of step with most Republicans on immigration. Those will make him an easy target and useful foil for all of the others, who will be able to point at the second “amigo” and say something like, “I want to keep America secure, but I don’t want to bomb every a new country every five minutes as Sen. Graham does.” A Graham bid is the closest one can get to re-running a McCain campaign, and Republicans are even less interested in doing that than they are in giving Romney another chance. Worse for the party, he is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the party, especially when it comes to the issues of foreign policy and immigration. He is the walking reminder of why most Americans shouldn’t trust Republicans to conduct foreign policy and why most conservatives don’t trust their party leaders.

Scott Schackleford, meanwhile, isn’t quite sure of the logic of a Graham candidacy:

So Graham could run as the next McCain, but without the charisma, or an alternative to Rubio, but without the youthful appeal or energy (or charisma). But who can resist the charms of a presidential candidate who believes that ISIS is coming to kill us all, each and every one of us? Who can better instill the belief in American Exceptionalism than the guy who keeps screaming about monsters under the bed?

Lindsey Graham is a name that seems quite odd in a discussion of potential Presidential candidates for a whole host of reasons. First of all, of course, there’s the fact that he’s never been considered a candidate of Presidential timber even though he’s been in Congress for two decades and has, for better or worse, become a prominent voice on issues like foreign policy and immigration in the Republican Party and the nation as a whole. While that fact alone has never necessarily stopped someone from running for President in the past, the fact that Graham himself has never before expressed any kind of Presidential ambition makes the very idea of him throwing his hat into the ring this time around seem kind of silly. Additionally, the fact that Graham’s relationship with the most vocal wing of the GOP is, shall we say, not very good. Thanks in no small part to his support for immigration reform dating back to before the 2008 Presidential election, he initially was one of the primary targets of Tea Party and other conservative groups in the 2014 primaries. Soon, though, it became clear that the challenge was going to face an uphill battle thanks in no small part to the fact that the strongest candidates stayed out of the race. In the end, Graham won the primary easily, avoiding a runoff and setting himself up for a General Election that he will win without question. No doubt, though, there is still significant bad blood between him and the right wing of the GOP that would manifest itself in a Presidential race. Finally, there’s the fact Graham just doesn’t come across as a good Presidential candidate. He obviously knows South Carolina well enough to keep getting elected there, but it’s a far cry from there to being a credible player on the national stage. Despite the fact that he appears on Sunday morning shows and cable news networks nearly as much as his alter ego John McCain, that just isn’t Lindsey Graham.

The important point to keep in mind about a potential Graham candidacy, though, is that it really doesn’t have anything to do with actually winning the nomination. Graham is obviously a smart enough politician to know that he has no shot at that, but if he does run he wouldn’t be running to win the nomination. Like many candidates before and since, a Graham bid in 2016 would be, at least in his mind, about advancing issues and attempting to push the agenda of the primary battle in a certain direction. As the Weekly Standard article makes clear, that issue would be foreign policy and Graham’s desire to push the GOP in a more aggressive direction. Given the fact that he and other Republicans have spent the better part of a year pushing back against the ideas of people like Senator Rand Paul, who has gained much attention and support for advocating a less aggressive foreign policy. In light of the rise of ISIS, which has led to increased support for military action among Americans in general and Republicans in particular, it’s not altogether an irrational strategy on Graham’s part. In that sense, then a Graham candidacy would be as much about trying to undermine Rand Paul and the alleged dangers posed by his foreign policy, and given the increasingly belligerant rhetoric coming from other potential Republican candidates, one suspects that Graham would not be alone in making those arguments.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, 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. C. Clavin says:

    Butters as President….buw-hahahahahaha…that’s funny as all get out.
    The guy has never been right about anything, ever….I mean…the defining trait of Republicans is to be on the wrong side of every issue…but he’s far worse than most.

  2. wr says:

    He’s actually the perfect candidate for the party of aging white men who are terrified of everything. He can be even more scared of scary Ebola patients than anyone. He’ll be more terrified of children coming over the border than even Lou Dobbs. He’ll piss his pants over Russia while most of us are still figuring out what to do about a situation that doesn’t really concern us.

    If you don’t think he’s the perfect candidate, you should read the comments on the Ebola message below. All those brave, tough right wingers who are so sure we need to send thousands of troops — all of whom, it should be noted, are not them — to fight Isis, now demand we close down our airports to make sure that Scary Ebola Terrorists can’t get them.

    I don’t know when abject cowardice became the defining feature of the right, but now that it is, Lindsey Graham is their man!

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Jon Stewart just had an orgasm.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    Saw Larison’s piece earlier. Best laugh I’ve had in days.

  5. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: Eh, I think we should either cut down the flights or at the very least impose a 21-day quarantine on people coming from West Africa. (We also should be shipping out as much medical help as possible as well as full speed ahead on an Ebola vaccine.)

    It’s not a question of rights; it’s a question of how to deal with a possible avalanche.

  6. sam says:

    President Butters.

  7. Eric Florack says:

    Larison is correct.
    While Graham would be a marked improvement over Obama (who wouldnt? OK, Biden, but other than him….) I dont even want him in the seat he has now, much less POTUS.
    Bush? Graham? Romney? Good God, people….

  8. anjin-san says:

    @Eric Florack:

    You are still here? I thought ISIS would have taken you out by now. They are going to kill us all in our beds you know.

  9. dazedandconfused says:

    He has his cross to bear, albeit in clown shoes, but let’s not ignore the Palin’s Law: More publicity = Mo money, mo money, mo money!

  10. edmondo says:

    Lindsey Graham as president has a lot of plusses. After all, he could cover the role of First Lady on a moment’s notice.

  11. Pinky says:

    Yesterday, I asked if there was anyone who really wanted to vote for Bush or Clinton. Today’s question: is there anyone who wouldn’t cut off his arms just to make sure that he didn’t accidentally cast a vote for Graham?

  12. al-Ameda says:

    In our interview, Graham repeatedly spoke of the challenges that will face the next president because of the mistakes made under Obama. And he suggested that he might just be the one to fix them.

    Mistakes? Graham want to send in troops – now THAT would be a major mistake.

  13. Kari Q says:

    Well, if you don’t like Graham, there’s always Carly Fiorina. There’s been some chatter about the potential that she will make a run for the spot, and she has the cred to defend us against IS. After all, she protected California from the danger of a Demon Sheep named Tom Campbell.

    True confession time. Tom Campbell is the last Republican I voted for, back in 2000 when I was still a swing voter and he was running against Dianne Feinstein. He talked, publicly and on camera, about ending the war on drugs, so I voted for him even though I knew he would lose.

  14. MM2 says:

    Lindsey Graham: Keep America Scared

  15. bill says:

    @C. Clavin: yeah, i don’t see it. that southern drawl he has is quite effeminate and will not sell with anyone outside of the deep south. wouldn’t matter what party he’s in.
    @anjin-san: unless Ebola get’s us first!

  16. PAUL HOOSON says:

    Sometimes he’s been very partisan. But, overall this is a quality candidate for the GOP, with far more substance than others, including Romney, interested in the race. – If worse came to worse and he would be elected, the sky won’t fall….

  17. stonetools says:

    To be honest, I don’t see Graham as being any worse than any of the other purported Republican nominees. No better, unfortunately, but no worse.

  18. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Eric Florack: As John McLaughlin used to say about Fred Barnes–Eric, you have inadvertently stumbled upon the truth. The GOP is “Good God, people.” Who is there to run in the insane clown posse your side calls a political party, hmmm…?

    When I was in the produce business, we had a saying, “It’s tough to sell off of an empty wagon.” Applies to the GOP also.

  19. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I am reminded yet again that, while the South was for decades a stone around the neck of the Democratic party, it’s the GOP’s cross to bear now.

    It almost makes one want to dig Nixon up and shake his hand.

  20. gVOR08 says:


    …a quality candidate for the GOP, with far more substance than others…

    The really scarey thing is, as much as I think Lindsssssey is a gag candidate, you’re right.

  21. Eric Florack says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: well, we could try an actual conservative….