Will Graham Be the Big Media Crush of 2016?

I’d say after this week we know with some degree of confidence which 2016 presidential candidate will be the object of great combative disdain from the MSM, which are already acting as though they have a patriotic duty to force Hillary Clinton to “respect” them. But via a profile from Dave Weigel it’s reasonably clear which candidate is most likely to be the cycle’s big media crush: yes, it’s Lindsey Graham.

To be clear, I’m not accusing Weigel of falling in love with the quixotic (remember that adjective; you’ll see it a lot if Graham’s poll numbers stay where they are) candidate from South Cackalacky; Dave went to New Hampshire and while there caught Graham’s act and described it. But make no mistake: for the typical Beltway reporter, there’s so much to love.

While he may seem grotesque to many of us lefty types, Graham is in many respects exactly what the self-styled “centrist” punditocracy thinks Republicans should all be like. He’s for the three holy Rs: entitlement reform, immigration reform, campaign finance reform (true, his commitments on the latter two are meagre these days, but you take what you can get, right?). He’s a firm believer in the median voter theorem instead of any of the various conservative hypotheses in which extremism is the big electoral winner. He’s the living embodiment of the MSM “narrative” for the midterm election just past, insofar as he croaked a trio of Tea types in a primary in his famously atavistic state. And he’s getting attention for his “wicked” sense of humor–which occasionally backfires, as in his quickly-retracted sexist jibe about Nancy Pelosi’s alleged facial surgeries. But hey, it sure worked for Mike Huckabee in 2008, making him that cycle’s darling, even more so than Graham’s close ally and mentor, the original Republican Reporters Love, John McCain.

According to Weigel, in New Hampshire Graham’s very much trying to rekindle memories of the 2000 Straight Talk Express, and the primary where McCain gave the entire Republican and Conservative Movement Establishment a moment of existential panic by beating the Crown Prince George W. Bush. That was, of course, a different day, before Bush himself was denounced regularly for selling out The Cause, and McCain derided as an example of the kind of RINO squish sent out to surely lose in presidential general elections. No, today’s small band of “moderate” Republicans will more likely gravitate, in another sign of changing times, to W.’s younger brother Jeb, or perhaps the 2010 Tea Party champion Marco Rubio.

But while Graham is unlikely to go much of anywhere with actual voters, he is in a good position to become at a minimum the Jon Huntsman of 2016–the candidate whose main constituency is the media–and maybe something approaching McCain 2000 and Huck 2008 in terms of uncritical coverage. A lot may depend on how often he shows the side of his personality that conservatives do find appealing: the subscription to crazy-talk about Benghazi!, the uncritical support for all things military, the restless desire to start one, two, three wars before breakfast.

So political junkies might want to make up a list of their favorite (or least favorite) Beltway political reporters and wait for that slow news day (you know, like today) where they gravitate to Lindsey Graham on the stump and pen an admiring report about the brave, “quixotic” candidate Republicans should be smart enough to take seriously. It’ll probably be enough to keep Graham going the rest of this year.

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.