South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is out of the race for the Republican nomination for President.
His withdrawal ensures his name can be removed from the primary ballot in South Carolina, which votes on February 20. A recent poll of the Palmetto State found Graham with just 1 percent support, even though he has represented the state in Congress for twenty years.
This isn’t a surprise, as he has struggled to gain traction in any polls. His national polling average is just 0.5 percent. In New Hampshire, where he has devoted most of his time as a candidate, his polling average is 0.0 percent.
Explaining his decision to exit the race, Graham pointed to the debate process, in which low-polling candidates were confined to an “undercard” debate without the major contenders.
“We’ve come to a point now where I just don’t see how we grow the campaign without getting on the main stage,” Graham said.
One of the biggest problems we’ve had was to get our voice on equal footing with others. This second-tier debate process has been difficult for us. I think we’ve done well in the debates, it’s just hard to break through because the buzz doesn’t last very long.
Superficially, Graham’s point about the minor debates makes some sense.
Other candidates, however, including Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie, were able to move to the main debate stage because of growing support in some early states. Graham wasn’t in the main debates because he didn’t earn a podium there.
It should be remembered that Graham, or rather Super PACs supporting his candidacy, spent around $3 million on advertising in New Hampshire. This is more than many candidates who poll higher than him in the Granite State. It is more than Ben Carson has spent and three times more than either Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.
Graham also had the backing of Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has long been popular in New Hampshire. McCain not only recorded a TV ad for Graham, he spent many days campaigning with him in the first primary state. While Graham didn’t make the main stage for the 5 GOP debates, he is a frequent guest on cable news and broadcast political shows. He has appeared countless times on the Sunday political shows throughout the campaign.
When he announced his candidacy in June, Graham said his purpose in running was to ensure that national security, terrorism and foreign policy were at the forefront of the policy debate for President. In the months since Graham announced, national security has become one of the defining issues in the Republican nomination battle.
In a recent CBS poll, more than 60 percent of Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, in fact, said national security was the most decisive issue in making their choice of candidate to support. Graham portrays himself as a “hawk” on national security issues.
On paper, the current political dialogue and climate should provide an enormous advantage for Graham, at least in New Hampshire. He has campaigned there relentlessly, spent million advertising there and has had the help of Sen. McCain. Yet, Graham does worse in New Hampshire than he does anywhere else.
It is perhaps churlish to point out, but Graham would probably poll better in New Hampshire if he had never campaigned there.
It is likely that Graham has failed to gain any traction in New Hampshire precisely because national security is an important issue and his approach to it is now rejected by Republican voters.
Graham, like McCain, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, President Bush and other parts of the Republican establishment, is a neo-conservative hawk who believes the US military should be used to resolve conflicts anywhere in the world.
Graham, McCain and Rubio all supported robust military engagement in Libya. They have supported a large US military presence in Syria , initially to drive Syrian President Bashir Assad from office. They now support a large military presence to combat ISIS.
There is almost no conflict in the world where Graham doesn’t support dispatching US troops to right an alleged wrong. It is a Wilsonian view of foreign policy. A decade of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, have made the American public far more skeptical of this global tinkering.
When Graham wasn’t advocating for larger defense budgets or pushing to deploy US troops, his role in the campaign was to attack other candidates, especially Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. He support amnesty for illegal immigrants and believes the US should take in more Syrian refugees.
Graham, basically, believes the Republican party should moderate every conservative position except the use of the military. Unfortunately for Graham, there are very few Woodrow Wilson Republicans.
During his aborted run for the White House, Lindsey Graham never made it to the main debate stage. He had ample opportunity, though, to present his views to the public, and Republican voters.
Those voters definitely heard his message. It was the message, not just the messenger, that they rejected.