Last weekend, as a result of the horrific Paris attacks, conservative commentator Ann Coulter guaranteed a Trump presidency, musing, “They can wait if they like until next November for the actual balloting, but Donald Trump was elected president tonight.” Coulter speaks to the reaction that many Republicans and non-Republicans alike had after the Paris attack: we cannot let dangerous Islamic fundamentalists sneak into our country like they did in France. And which candidate has been most vocal about keeping out illegal and dangerous immigrants? Trump. One week later, true to her prediction, at least in the very short-term, his polls have rallied a bit, though we must be careful not to assign causality to what could be a coincidence.
My question is — shouldn’t the candidate Republicans rally around actually be South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham? Trump has no rival when it comes to bravado and red meat speeches, but let’s face it: his campaign has been centered around Hispanic illegal immigration and his outsider status. Islamic terror in Paris at best tangentially legitimizes his platform, and it should have actually done damage to his candidacy. In what seems like an increasingly scary world and an increasingly potent ISIS, is it really the best course of action to elect someone with no foreign policy, military, or political experience? It lacks a certain logic.
Instead, Republicans should take another look at Graham’s candidacy. No candidate in the field has more experience with foreign policy. He earned the rank of colonel in the Air Force, served eight years in the House, including on the Armed Services Committee, and he’s now in his third term in the Senate, where he again serves on that committee in addition to the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations
With best-friend-forever John McCain, he’s been the most vocal “war hawk” in the country for over a decade. Unlike other candidates, who make immigration, social issues, or economic policy the center plank of their platform, Graham has been the only candidate to put foreign policy at the forefront. Months ago his campaign website highlighted these Graham quotes:
- “I lay down every night and wake up every morning determined to protect this country. We must fight them over there to keep them from coming here.”
- “Our allies distrust us and our enemies have no reason to respect or fear us. “
- “If I’m President of the United States and you’re thinking about joining al-Qaeda or ISIL, I’m not gonna call a judge. I’m gonna call a drone and we will kill you.”
In sum, if a voter’s primary concern is who is ready to be commander-in-chief on “Day One” and take the fight to ISIS so we don’t get attacked here at home, Graham should be their guy. Not a business tycoon and reality TV star.
Moreover, Graham’s social conservative bona fides are excellent. Inside Gov ranked all candidates by their conservatism based on how they speak and vote on the issues. Graham ranked sixth most conservative in the 17-person field, and thanks to Perry and Walker dropping out, he now ranks fourth. That makes him more holistically conservative than the likes of Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson, and farrr more conservative than Donald Trump. Moreover, if you just tease out “Domestic Issues” as a subcategory, Graham ranked second behind only Scott Walker, so with Walker’s withdrawal, Graham is the most conservative candidate on domestic issues.
It hasn’t mattered. Despite this conservatism and his aggressive — and some might say prophetic — foreign policy that was ahead of where Republican rhetoric is just now arriving, Graham languishes with a vacuous 0.0 average in the polls. He’s even behind George Pataki, a pro-choice Republican candidate who looks down at Graham from his infinitely more impressive 0.3.
So why isn’t he doing better? The answer is the same as it was back in July. He’s antithetical to the new-look, intransigently conservative GOP. He works with Democrats on climate change and immigration reform, and he refuses to consider political ideology for judicial nominees. He even reached out to Democrats in his presidential announcement speech. Members of his own state censured him last year for working across the aisle. For the fact that he works with Democrats on some big issues, he’s been branded a “moderate Republican,” which, in a Republican Primary, is as insulting as it gets. McCain and Romney had the money and establishment support to weather the accusation of moderation; Graham does not.
Logic says that a threatened America should take Graham’s candidacy more seriously, especially in a GOP Primary. So far, however, it seems like Trump leaners can contort any developments into reasons to stick with Trump, rather than jump ship. At this point, I feel like we could find out Trump is a former member of ISIS and his supporters would just say, “What better way to beat them than by having someone who’s been on the inside!”
As we get more national polling, I’m interested to see if Graham will register at all. Regardless, he will not transform into a contender. I still expect he drops out before his home state of South Carolina holds its primary in order to endorse the contender, likely Marco Rubio, with the most foreign policy experience.