COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says he’s never sent an email in his life—ever.
“I don’t email,” Graham said in an appearance this weekend on NBC’s Meet the Press. “You can have every email I have ever sent. I’ve never sent one.”
Graham was responding to a question about, if he runs for president, whether he’d release all his emails—a response to the latest controversy surrounding embattled Democratic Party front runner former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email account and servers.
“Nope, he receives text messages on his phone—so if there’s something we want to get to him, we text it to him,” Kevin Bishop, Graham’s communications director, said in a phone interview when asked how it’s possible the senator has never sent any emails.
If he wants to talk about it, he’ll pick up his cell phone and call you back. It allows him to not respond to every fifteen second thing going on out there. He’ll read stories on his iPad and he’ll read newspapers on his iPad.
He’ll watch TV as we’re traveling and see what’s on CNN or Fox or something like that—and this is a system that works for him. Most people know he’s quite well versed on the issues. So frankly if somebody has something to say—whether it’s staff or a close friend—they send him a text message about something and if it’s something he wants to know more about, he’ll pick up the phone and call you.
Graham is flirting with running for president after having just won re-election to the U.S. Senate last year. He wrapped a swing through Iowa and then through New Hampshire this weekend, his second Hawkeye State trip and his first to the Granite State.
“If Lindsey Graham decides to run, he will run to win,” Bishop tells Breitbart News.
Graham’s support for amnesty for illegal aliens is likely to be a problem should he run. Alongside potential fellow 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Graham served in the previous Congress’ “Gang of Eight” in the U.S. Senate. Other members of the Gang of Eight included Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois and the soon-to-be-indicted-on-federal-corruption-charges Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
“I promise you one thing: There will never be an immigration reform bill where you get everything you want and the other side doesn’t get everything,” Graham said in an appearance this weekend at the Iowa Agriculture Summit, where he defended his work alongside Democrats for immigration legislation.
“I want to get this thing fixed and behind us—it’s hurting the party and it’s a national security nightmare and where do the workers come from in the future?” Graham added.
So I’ll end with this: I want to replace a broken immigration system with one that works. In the future if you get a green card, you get points because you can speak the language and you have a job skill that we need. In other words, we get to pick who comes instead of having the people who are smart enough to get across the border. That’s what I want and the only way I’m going to get that is to deal with Democrats.
Graham had a very similar answer on the issue in New Hampshire on Monday, according to a story in the Associated Press.
Bishop said that Graham’s position on immigration has been consistent since he first weighed in back in 2006.
“Sen. Graham continues to say what he’s been saying since 2006 when President Bush first laid a plan out on the table—which was very similar to what we had in 2013,” Bishop said. “He continues to talk about the problem and continues to say what he’s been saying for the last 10 years. He’s been saying it to the people of South Carolina and he’s now saying it to the people of New Hampshire and Iowa.”
Despite his controversial position on immigration, what Bishop describes as Graham’s “folksy” demeanor is a hit on the campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire. Graham’s style of retail politics was what Laura Ingraham, a nationally syndicated conservative radio host who vehemently disagrees with him on immigration, credited his Senate primary victory in South Carolina last cycle to.
As WMUR’s Josh McElveen—a seasoned political reporter in the nation’s first primary state—Tweeted:
— Josh McElveen (WMUR) (@JoshMcElveen) March 9, 2015
The Des Moines Register, similarly, quoted some attendees of the Iowa Ag Summit speaking very highly of Graham under a headline: “Who came out a winner at the Ag Summit?”
“I very much liked the man from South Carolina [Lindsey Graham],” Linda Robel, who owns a farm in West Des Moines, said. “He talked like he was real down to earth. He talked like he was sitting in your living room.”
“The surprise of the day was Lindsey Graham,” former Iowa state Sen. Jeff Angelo, of Ames—where the infamous straw poll takes place—said. “I thought he was relaxed and likeable, and he really showed a command of the issues.”
Angelo also spoke highly of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, however. “I also liked Jeb Bush,” Angelo said. “He seemed policy wonky and showed a thorough understanding of the issues.”
Some conservatives question the motivations behind a potential run from Graham, however.
“Lindsey likes attention,” one GOP senate aide told Breitbart News when asked for thoughts on Graham’s presidential aspirations. Others suggest it’s a bid for Graham wanting to become the vice presidential pick for whoever wins the nomination due to his foreign policy experience, while others think Graham is angling for a cabinet slot in a future GOP administration.
“Nobody has scored points for the Left on so many critical issues as Lindsey Graham,” Daniel Horowitz, the Conservative Review’s senior editor, told Breitbart News, noting that his group’s scorecard gives Graham an F—or 51 percent—conservative rating.
“Graham has about as much chance of winning the Republican nomination as Hillary Clinton has of not being involved in another scandal,” Horowitz said. “On the bright side, if Graham runs for president, he will further divide the moderate vote and suck up more donors from the Establishment donor class.”
Iowa-based nationally syndicated conservative radio host Steve Deace on Tuesday rated Graham’s chances in the Iowa caucuses, after his Iowa Ag Summit appearance, as 750 to 1—a significant improvement since beforehand Deace didn’t even rate Graham, but still proof of how much of a long shot the South Carolinian really is. Deace, one of the most connected people in Iowa politics, gives better odds to every other candidate except New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who he rates at having a 1,000 to 1 chance in Iowa.
“Sen. Graham’s foray into presidential politics is truly bizarre,” George Rasley, the executive editor of Richard Viguerie’s ConservativeHQ, said in an email on Monday afternoon.
The South Carolina Republican establishment has been firmly allied with the Bush family since 1988 when Lee Atwater helped establish South Carolina as George H. W. Bush’s “firewall” against Bob Dole and Pat Robertson.
South Carolina was where George W. Bush vaporized John McCain in a viciously racist campaign after McCain won New Hampshire. With the new party rules the Romney people put in place in 2012, which were subsequently confirmed by the RNC, the old idea of a horse trading ‘favorite son’ campaign such as Graham seems to be planning is an anachronistic dream out of an old black and white newsreel.
The question everyone should be asking is what does Sen. Graham want and can he get it from someone before the Bush people make him irrelevant in his own home state?
Given the fact he’s a U.S. senator from South Carolina, one of the early primary states and the first in the very conservative south, Graham could be running to attempt to derail any conservative such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) or Ted Cruz (R-TX) from gaining traction.
For the three major conservatives in the race, Walker, Paul or Cruz—or any other conservative— to win the GOP nomination in 2016, they’re almost certainly going to need South Carolina as part of their portfolio of states as they head into the Republican National Convention in Cleveland later in the year. With one of the U.S. Senators from South Carolina in the race, however, it may become a little more dicey—and a lot harder—for them to get the crucial first in the south state.
“Start by asking the question ‘Is Lindsey Graham a serious presidential candidate?’ Once you answer that in the negative, why would he run?” a strategist for a major conservative Super PAC said in an email.
You’re talking about the guy who swears up and down that the only way to save the GOP is to vote with Reid and Schumer and Durbin on amnesty. So what purpose could he possibly serve? It’s pretty old-school, but one could certainly see Graham running a sham/stalking horse campaign.
Maybe he thinks he can bleed off enough votes to deny a real conservative a South Carolina win, and save Jeb from Waterloo early on. Lindsey’s no conservative, but he’s no dummy either. Would he do it to hose conservatives? Sure.
“The most plausible explanation for this seemingly unexplainable move is Graham fancies himself as a blocker for Jeb in South Carolina and elsewhere,” the same Senate GOP aide who said Graham likes attention from the media added. “Maybe there is a quid pro quo already or maybe he’s looking for one. Lindsey may just be Jeb’s pawn and maybe he should think about that.”
South Carolina comes after Iowa and New Hampshire—which get the most fanfare early in the process—but before Florida, a state that Jeb Bush would be expected to win.
Bush’s chances of boxing out conservatives nationwide increase dramatically if South Carolina goes to a candidate other than Cruz, Paul or Walker—as he’ll likely have a good showing in New Hampshire and win Florida.
But Graham’s team is ardent about that’s not why he’d run. They insist the senator will only run if he thinks he can win, and will be aiming to win. Bishop laid out for Breitbart News how Graham has established what’s called a “testing the waters” committee for a potential presidential effort—which is essentially, in practice, an exploratory committee.
Graham tells reporters that if he runs, he will be running to win—exactly what Bishop said. RealClearPolitics’ Scott Conroy, in a recent piece, detailed how despite various “theories” out there about Graham’s intentions, he is aiming to win if he runs.
In the piece, Conroy noted how 2008 GOP presidential nominee McCain has already said he endorses Graham’s presidential campaign if he decides to run.
“I formally endorse him,” McCain said after Graham launched his testing the waters committee. “He has my all-out complete support. That’s not just friendship. It’s got to do with national security and what I believe are grave threats to this nation.”
Conroy called McCain Graham’s “ace in the hole.” Conroy wrote:
In addition to his politicking prowess—a skill that is highly prized in the first-in-the-nation primary state—Graham also has an ace in the hole in the form of McCain, whose own bond with New Hampshire Republicans runs deep after they awarded him victories in both the 2000 and 2008 primaries.
It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which the 78-year-old Arizona senator deigns to scrape the rust off the ol’ Straight Talk Express for one more joy ride through town hall meetings from Nashua to the North Country—only this time with the 59-year-old South Carolinian, whom he jokes is his “illegitimate son,” in tow. Graham may be a lifelong bachelor, but he has an ironclad political partner in McCain.
Conroy also laid out Graham’s thinking of what would be his pathway to victory.
In theory, Graham’s path to the nomination would go something like this: First, he’d try to put in a respectable showing in Iowa, while downplaying the caucuses. Meanwhile, he’d launch a full-blown, McCain-style insurgent campaign in New Hampshire, in the hopes of either winning the state outright or vastly exceeding the low expectations he would begin with there. Then it’s on to his home state of South Carolina, where Graham likely would have to win, in order to keep his candidacy afloat.
Following that theme, Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel wrote a piece on Tuesday titled: “In New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham Retools The Straight Talk Express.” Weigel hones in on how Graham is modeling his potential presidential bid after previous efforts from McCain.
It would be difficult for Graham to win here in South Carolina, nonetheless.
Last year here in the Palmetto State after initial rumblings of a potential serious primary challenge, Graham barely avoided a runoff and for months was polling well below the margin necessary to tank his re-election. While several candidates declared and ran against Graham—including state Sen. Lee Bright—no serious candidate with a chance of beating him ever emerged.
Graham only got 56 percent of the vote on primary election day, according to Associated Press totals, just six percent over the margin necessary to avoid the runoff. If he had failed to achieve 50 percent, he would have headed into a runoff with the next best candidate, who in this case was Bright. Bright got 15 percent of the vote, and five other challengers split another 27 percent of the electorate.
To put Graham’s numbers in perspective, his fellow South Carolina U.S. senator Tim Scott—who ran for re-election last year to the Senate seat he was appointed to after Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint vacated it for that gig—won nearly 90 percent of the vote in the GOP primary then more than 61 percent in the general election. Graham won only 54 percent in the general election, meaning many voters showed up and voted for Scott but not for Graham.
If Reps. Trey Gowdy, Jeff Duncan or Mick Mulvaney had jumped in against him he probably would have lost re-election, but those guys didn’t take the plunge. That means that if Graham does run for president, he may not be able to succeed in his own state of South Carolina since this time around he’d be facing off against credible alternatives in the form of Cruz, Paul, Walker and potentially others.
“There’s no way Graham could even win his own state just like Al Gore couldn’t,” that Senate GOP aide said.
In fact, a new poll from The Winthrop Poll—highlighted first by the influential Palmetto State blog FitsNews—found that two thirds of registered South Carolina voters and 56.5 percent of Republicans in the state don’t want Graham to run for president.
“Two-thirds of registered voters in South Carolina – and 56.5 percent of ‘Republicans’ – do not want U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham to run for president in 2016,” FitsNews wrote. “By contrast only 26 percent of voters – and 34 percent of ‘Republicans’ – want Graham to seek the White House.”
Graham’s approval rating in the state stands at 46.5 percent among all voters and at 60.3 percent among Republicans, according to the poll—something FitsNews wrote “would erode in the event he continues his Quixotic bid for the presidency.”
But if Graham did pull off the native son effort in the Palmetto State and won South Carolina, Conroy wrote, “the next big target would be” the potentially-in-works so-called SEC primary on March 1, 2016. That proposal for an SEC primary is not finalized yet, so it’s unclear if there will even be such a primary.
“If that proposal does indeed come to pass, it would offer Graham an opportunity to emphasize his own Deep South roots on the way to solidifying his standing heading into the heart of the primary calendar,” Conroy wrote. “But not even the biggest Graham supporter could argue that this path to the nomination contains a lot of ‘if’s,’ the biggest of which is: Can he raise the money that will be required to run a viable national campaign?”
Bishop told Breitbart News that if Graham ran, he’d focus on his foreign policy experience—and he also confirmed that Graham is opposed to Common Core even though he does support amnesty.
“He’s one of the leaders, he’s traveled throughout the Middle East,” Bishop said.
He understands the region, he understands the issues involved, he understands what led to the rise of ISIS. He has great concerns about radical Islam that is opposed to our way of life. So if you’re looking for someone who’s strong on national security and someone who’s going to make America safe, then Lindsey Graham has a message that many Americans find appealing.
Ultimately, the question is: Does he decide to run? He hasn’t made up his mind yet. But the one thing is he’s going to be the same guy he’s always been.