Graham ’16

So will U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the latest Republican to set up a 2016 exploratory committee, join the long list of Beltway potentates who wrongly assume their manifest magnificence will automatically make them viable presidential contenders? I would guess so, insofar as his impressive ability to outmaneuver South Carolina conservatives and keep getting re-elected despite a “squish” reputation is not really transferrable to places like Iowa with so many presidential options. And it’s not like he would be the only candidate shrieking about Muslims and Benghazi! and Iran and demanding more defense spending.

There are, however, two things about a Graham candidacy, if it happens, that could elevate it above the kind of Wilbur Mills/Phil Gramm vanity project it would appear to resemble.

The first is that a campaign trail with Lindsay Graham on it would guarantee Rand Paul a very regular pounding on foreign policy issues, and would relieve other candidates of that necessity. Graham could, of course, help force the whole field into some bloodcurdling positions on America’s relationship with the world (and with our own citizens). But along with John Bolton and maybe Marco Rubio, Graham would represent one end of the spectrum on national security where Paul is at the other end.

The second and even more obvious thing is that if he survived until that point in the nominating contest, Graham could represent a real problem for candidates wanting to win in South Carolina, and in fact, could take the state off the table, which would create yet another grievance against him among the Palmetto State conservatives who seem to dislike him but can’t figure out how to take him down. Indeed, they could be the folks most pleased when the nominating process inevitably takes him down for them.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.