South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. If you’re wondering, “Who is Lindsey Graham, and why is he running for president?”, here’s what you should know.
Graham is the senior senator from South Carolina. He’s been in the Senate since 2003, when he ran unopposed to replace retiring senator Strom Thurmond. He’s a Southern Baptist by faith. Prior to the Senate, Graham represented South Carolina’s 3rd congressional district in the House, from 1995 to 2003. Before that, Graham served in the U.S. Air Force — active duty from 1982 to 1988, Air National Guard from 1989 to 1995, and Reserves from 1995 to 2015 — where he rose to the rank of colonel.
That’s who Lindsey Graham is, in a nutshell. The bigger question is: Why is Lindsey Graham running for president?
Fox News once called Graham the GOP’s best hope in 2016, but almost no one else thinks so. Two months after he hinted at a 2016 run, Graham was left off an online straw poll by his home state’s Republican party; a straw poll that included pizza mogul Herman Cain, former Alaska governor and reality television “star” Sarah Palin, and even Sen. Tim Scott (R, South Carolina). The poll was updated to include Graham, after his exclusion became news. Graham lacks support even in his home state. A recent Winthrop poll showed that 60 percent of South Carolinians think he should not run for president.
Graham might be excluded from the first Republican debate. Fox News says candidates must place in the top ten of five national polls recognized by the network to qualify. Graham doesn’t come close to making the cut, and he’s only got until early August.
Graham is running for president because the world is ending.
Hinting at a presidential run during an interview on “CBS This Morning” a couple of weeks ago, Graham said, “I’m running because I think the world is falling apart.”
Graham is like Chicken Little in that regard.
- One of the first elected officials to comment on the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, Graham told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, “It’s not an attack on our homeland, but it’s definitely an attack on our way of life. There’s a perfect storm brewing to have this country hit again.” Graham added that the Charlie Hebdo attack means, “We’re in a religious war.”
- In August, Graham fretted about President Obama’s strategy for dealing with ISIS, saying to “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, “If he does not go on the offensive against ISIS, ISIL – whatever you want to call these guys – they are coming here.”
- Graham tweeted that Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded the Ukraine because of how the Obama administration handle the Benghazi attack.
- Graham said the retired postal worker who landed his gyrocopter on the lawn in front of the Capital Building should have been “shot out of the sky.” “ I don’t know why he wasn’t,” Graham added, “but our nation is under siege. Radical Islam is a threat to our homeland. There are probably radical Islamic cells in our backyard already.”
- Speaking at the Lincoln Day dinner fundraiser for the Iowa Republican party, Graham warned, “If I’m president of the United States and you’re thinking about joining al-Qaida or ISIL — anybody thinking about that?” he asked to laughs. “I’m not gonna call a judge. I’m gonna call a drone and we’re gonna kill you.” So much for due-process from the Graham administration.
In some ways, Graham is not your typical Republican member of Congress.
Graham’s willingness to buck the Republican party shows that in some ways he’s not your typical Republican senator.
- Graham believes that climate change is a problem caused by human activity, but wants to make an issue of whether “you have to destroy the economy to solve the problem.”
- At an event at the Council on Foreign Relations, Graham said, the GOP needs to do some “soul searching” on climate change.
- Graham told Roll Call, “I think there will be a political problem for the Republican Party going into 2016 if we don’t define what we are for on the environment.” Graham admitted, “I don’t know what the environmental policy of the Republican Party is.”
- In March, Graham warned Republicans, “You can’t govern the country based on being angry.”
- Graham disagreed with Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R, Texas) statement about guns and government tyranny: “Well, we tried that once in South Carolina. I wouldn’t go down that road again. I think an informed electorate is probably a better check than, you know, guns in the streets.I’m not looking for an insurrection. I’m looking to defeat Hillary. We’re not going to out-gun her.”
- Graham’s occasional attempts to work with Democrats in the Senate earned him the tea party’s hatred, but he held on to his seat with 55 percent of the vote in 2014, despite the tea party’s relentless attacks.
In other ways, Graham is typical conservative congressperson.
In other ways, Graham is typical of what we’ve come to expect from conservatives in Congress lately.
- Graham pushed for a 20-week abortion ban, claiming he knows twins born 20 weeks into a pregnancy. That’s unlikely. Medical studies have set fetal viability at 22 to 24 weeks. The “most premature baby ever to have survived” was born at 21 weeks and six days.
- Graham refused to accept a House Republican committee report that the Obama administration hadn’t covered up anything about the Benghazi attack. “I think the report is full of crap,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
- At a private gathering in October, Graham joked that, “white men who are in male-only clubs are going to do great in my presidency.”
- Graham grilled President Obama’s attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch, about marriage equality and polygamy. “If the Supreme Court rules that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional,” Graham asked, “[that] it violates the U.S. Constitution for a state to try to limit marriage between a man and a woman, that’s clearly the law of the land unless there’s a constitutional amendment to change it. What legal rationale would be in play that would prohibit polygamy?
- Graham made a shockingly sexist jab at House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, following her criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s congressional address. “Did you see Nancy Pelosi on the floor? Complete disgust,” Graham said to a group of political donors. “If you can get through all the surgeries, there’s disgust.” Classy guy.
- In a USA Today interview, Graham said that Hillary Clinton is beatable, “But we’re getting creamed with non-white voters.”
- Everything Graham needs to know about Iranians, he learned by working in a pool hall.
Graham’s a bit of a hypocrite about money in politics.
But at other times Graham hasn’t minded money in politics at all.
- Minutes after Graham met with grocery-store billionaire John Catsimatidis, Graham’s super PAC — the West Main Street Values PAC — secured a $25,000 donation from Catsimatidis, who’d just maxed out to Graham’s campaign.
- Graham got advice and early support from wealthy GOP donors like Sheldon Adelson in March.
Graham would be only our second “confirmed bachelor” president.
If by some fluke Graham were to win the Republican nomination, and somehow beat overwhelming odds to win the general election, he would be America’s first “confirmed bachelor” president in over a century. We’ve only elected two unmarried presidents: Grover Cleveland (#22 and #24) and James Buchanan (#15). Cleveland wed while in office. So that leaves Buchanan, who did married.
Marriage isn’t a requirement for the presidency, but scrutiny into candidates’ personal lives has only intensified since Buchanan’s term ended in 1861. (Imagine if Buchanan and King had to contend with paparazzi and social media!) Nowadays, candidates trot their families out for reassuring photo ops every chance they get. Spouses often serve as surrogates on the campaign trail, and are often as important and controversial as the candidates themselves.
The candidate who doesn’t have a photo-op ready family will be at a disadvantage, and the object of some speculation. For example, Fox analyst Chris Wallace would like to put Graham on the “psychiatrist couch,” to find out why the 59-year-old lawmaker is still a bachelor.
Graham could be the second “ambiguously gay” president.
Graham’s aforementioned confirmed bachelorhood has led to speculation about his sexuality. If elected, Graham could be the nation’s second “ambiguously gay” president.
The first, of course, was James Buchanan. Rumors about his sexuality swirled around Buchanan’s life and legacy. Buchanan is only known to have been involved with one woman. He courted Ann Caroline Coleman, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, and they were engaged in 1819. Coleman broke off the engagement, after Buchanan visited a friend’s wife. She died in December of 1819, in what the physician who attended her in her final hours described as “the first instance he ever knew of hysteria producing death.”
Buchanan was apparently either celibate or asexual until his intimate relationship with William Rufus King (who, by the way, served as Franklin Pierce’s Vice President.) The men lived together in a Washington boarding house from 1834 to 1844, and attended social events together. Andrew Jackson famously referred to them as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy.”
Similar rumors have dogged Graham. For example, during a tea party rallying South Carolina in 2010, one speaker suggested that Graham supported a guest-worker program out of fear that the Democrats might “out” him otherwise. Graham publicly addressed the issue in 2010, telling a New York Times reporter, “I ain’t gay,” before joking about being pop star Ricky Martin’s secret lover.
Still, times have changed since the Buchanan administration. A new poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal shows that Americans would totally vote for a gay president; Sixty-one percent said they would either be enthusiastic about or comfortable with a gay or lesbian candidate, only 37 percent said they would have reservations or be uncomfortable, and just 2 percent were uncertain.
Anyway, if Graham were somehow elected, he could borrow a page from Buchanan’s playbook, and have a female relative (like his sister) fulfill the duties of a First Lady … or First Spouse.