Kagan advances — with Graham’s backing

KAGAN ADVANCES — WITH GRAHAM’S BACKING…. There wasn’t any doubt that the Senate Judiciary Committee would approve Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court today. There was interest, however, in how the vote would go.

The committee endorsed Kagan on a 13-to-6 vote, with every Democrat supporting the nominee. The surprise came when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), joined with the majority.

The South Carolina conservative delivered a fairly lengthy speech on the nomination, and conceded he could think of “100 reasons” to oppose Kagan. But he would back her anyway, because of her qualifications and character. “At the end of the day, after the hearing, it was not a hard decision for me to make,” Graham explained.

As for what’s next for Kagan, her nomination now heads to the Senate floor, where final confirmation is expected before members break for their summer recess.

But what’s next for Graham? Chris Cillizza noted today that his support for Kagan “is likely to further incite conservatives already unhappy with him and, according to close observers of the state’s politics, ensures he will face a serious primary challenge in 2014.”

Graham’s apostasy on Kagan comes after other high profile breaks with conservatives in his state (and nationally) over climate change and immigration reform and will likely make him a central target of those tea party Republicans who helped oust Utah Sen. Bob Bennett in his bid for renomination earlier this year.

“It’s no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘who’ and ‘how many’,” said one South Carolina Republican operative about a Graham primary challenge. The source added that Graham’s approach on high profile issues of late is “putting Lindsey’s friends and supporters in a really tough place.”

Richard Quinn, a Graham consultant, defended his client — noting that the Senator is “not a demagogue.” Added Quinn: “He’s a thinking person’s conservative. I expect him to do well among voters with IQ’s in triple digits.”

It seems that when Democrats make remarks like these — the right may not like Candidate A, but smart voters will — cries of “elitism” are hard to avoid. (Imagine what the media would do if David Axelrod said today that he expects President Obama to do well in 2012 “among voters with IQ’s in triple digits.”) I guess Republicans can get away with it more easily?

But putting that aside, I still find the right’s outrage over Graham to be pretty silly. He’s voting for a qualified Supreme Court nominee? The horror! Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed on a 96 to 3 vote when her nomination was sent to the floor. How many of those Republicans were threatened with primary challenges because of it?