Yesterday Lindsey Graham expressed his interest in yes, for real, becoming a presidential candidate for 2016. Spend any amount of time around the good senator and you’ll hear more extreme sentiments expressed publicly than from any other candidate for the Republican nomination.
He holds an expansive view of the unrestricted powers of the executive branch; a steadfast belief in protecting the administrative state; and he has expressed doubts about much of the Bill of Rights. He does not believe bloggers deserve first amendment protections. He does not believe Americans suspected of terrorist acts deserve to be read their rights. And he, like Hillary Clinton, believes the Citizens United decision was a monstrosity that ought to be overturned – he has called for a Constitutional amendment to do so.
In more senses than one, Graham takes after John C. Calhoun – a warhawk with progressive views of government and an ahistorical view of the Constitution whose primary motivation, first and last, is power.
Graham also regularly says things that are not just wacky, but absurd, even within his own established field of foreign policy and national security. The other day in Iowa, Senator Graham endorsed droning Americans without even calling a judge first. “If I’m president of the United States and you’re thinking about joining al-Qaeda or ISIL [the Islamic State], I’m not gonna call a judge,” Graham said, a reference to Sen. Rand Paul’s earlier remark about how the NSA should call a judge to obtain a warrant before tapping into people’s phone records. “I’m gonna call a drone and we will kill you.”
In a conversation with Wolf Blitzer, his depiction of Saddam Hussein’s influence in the Middle East is just bizarre. To suggest that Saddam was a destabilizing force at the time America entered Iraq is nothing more than fanciful revisionism. But this is the sort of thing Graham does all the time.
So why does Graham get away with it? Why is he viewed by some people as a serious person, where Michele Bachmann and Ben Carson and Donald Trump are not? Graham is held up by the television networks as an “adult” on foreign policy and national security, but his views are not just unconservative or hawkish, they are regularly unhinged and bereft of facts. The fact that he endures as a voice with any authority on matters foreign or domestic within the Republican Party is a sign of how unwilling the party is to seriously engage in internal debate about its future.
This is why him running for president is a very great thing. Light will bring heat for the Senator, and I suspect that his DOA campaign will help publicize the extremism of his views in the context of the presidential field. Graham’s intent is to make the case for his particular brand of foreign policy. But by placing himself on stage with a number of candidates whose interest is in appealing to particular factions of the Republican coalition, Graham will be a useful foil for big government policies of a wide variety.
For candidates who wish to appeal to those voters who value the constitution – and reject the Obama Administration’s approach to governance – Graham offers a tempting target on a plethora of subjects. Running for president doesn’t allow you the freedom of the Senate floor to merely talk about what you want to talk about, and I suspect that he may spend more time defending his domestic policy views than advocating for his foreign policy perspective, both of which are equally unhinged.