Lindsay Graham has left the presidential contest. For all the grief I gave him in my debate articles, I have to admit that Graham was starting to grow on me. Foreign policy is not my main area of expertise, but Graham’s ideas, while more bellicose than my own, were the product of intelligent thinking on the subject. He had a theory and he applied it, which is more than I can say for the sound bite- and photo op-based policies of some other candidates (and the current president). He cares about it, thinks it’s important, and wants to get it right. I wish he had polled highly enough to make it into the main debates, because he would have added the seriousness that few candidates brought to the table on that topic.
I also respect Graham for being himself. He’s weird, but he knows it, is comfortable with it, and has no intention of changing. I laughed at some of his jokes, and appreciated the contrast of one man who can inject humor into a situation where he is clearly experienced enough to relax, and a bunch of others who were nervously repeating sound bites. Many candidates’ humor, when it exists, is in memorized jokes written for them and crammed in to the first applicable opening in the conversation. It feels fake. Lindsey Graham is real.
He’ll be missed, at least around here, though I appreciate that he did the right thing in giving up where there was no hope of victory. The most shocking thing about Graham’s failure to catch fire was not that he fell short in Iowa and New Hampshire, but that he failed in his home state of South Carolina. Less than two years ago, Graham won re-election to the Senate convincingly. Yet in the last two polls before leaving the campaign, he was averaging 1.5% in his home state. If there is one lesson to be learned from the Graham campaign, it’s that the favorite son is dead, and the primary election system killed it.
A local candidate used to run as a favorite son, holding his state’s delegates at the convention in exchange for some favor from the eventual nominee. That’s a calculation the delegates of a state convention were able to make, but not one that a state’s primary voters are likely to consider. Even so, the eventual nominee ought to consider listening to Graham’s counsel and, if he wins, setting aside a place for Graham in the cabinet.