QUOTE OF THE DAY…. The New York Times Magazine will publish a big feature on Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) this weekend, which I suspect will spark some interesting discussion. For now, let’s take note of the quote that’s likely to get the most attention.

“Everything I’m doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement’s at,” Graham said…. On four occasions, Graham met with Tea Party groups. The first, in his Senate office, was “very, very contentious,” he recalled. During a later meeting, in Charleston, Graham said he challenged them: ” ‘What do you want to do? You take back your country — and do what with it?’ … Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent.”

In a previous conversation, Graham told me: “The problem with the Tea Party, I think it’s just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.” Now he said, in a tone of casual lament: “We don’t have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats.” Chortling, he added, “Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”

As a matter of policy, I don’t agree with Graham about much of anything, but all of these observations are entirely sound. The reason I put “movement” in quotes every time I write about the Tea Partiers is that it’s a contingent with no clear agenda, no leadership, no internal structure, and no meaningful connection to reality. Its passionate members, while probably well meaning, appear to have no idea what they’re talking about. Genuine political movements — civil rights, women’s suffrage, labor unions — have, as Graham put it, a “coherent vision.” The Tea Party has Hitler signs and a cable news network, but that’s not much of a substitute.

Indeed, there’s already some evidence the “movement” may be “in danger of breaking apart before it ever really comes together.”

But Graham’s remarks, while defensible, are likely to cause all manner of trouble for him. He’s already been condemned by right-wing South Carolinians, and that was just for talking to Democrats about possible compromises on public policy. For Graham to trash the confused Tea Party crowd — to the New York Times, no less — will likely make his life in Republican politics considerably more difficult.

As for Graham’s observation that Reagan “would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today,” it’s hard to overstate how true this is. I’m reminded of something Rachel Maddow told viewers last week:

“He signed a bill that gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants. He grew the size of the federal government and the budget, added a whole new cabinet level agency and added tens of thousands of government workers to the federal payroll.

“He tripled the deficit. He bailed out and expanded social security with a big fat tax increase. He raised corporate taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars. He raised taxes on gasoline.

“He, in fact, signed into law the largest tax increase in history. He supported federal handgun controls. He called for a world without nuclear weapons.

“He was Ronald Reagan.”

It’s an ongoing area of interest for me, so I’m glad Graham brought it up. Indeed, in addition to Rachel’s observations, I’d also note that as governor, Reagan increased spending, raised taxes, helped create the nation’s first state-based emissions standards, signed an abortion-rights bill, and expanded the nation’s largest state-based Medicaid program (socialized medicine).

Then, as president, Reagan raised taxes in seven out of the eight years in office, approved “amnesty” for immigrants who entered the country illegally, and met with our most hated enemy without preconditions.

Reagan “would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today”? Reagan would have a hard time not getting laughed off the Republican stage today.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.