A call for team-building on Graham’s presidential campaign trail

Washington Post

This month, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham announced his campaign for president. Here’s what The Washington Post editorial page had to say about him:

Whatever you think of Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., it’s hard to accuse him of failing to speak his mind. That’s part of the reason his presidential campaign, which he officially announced Monday, is a long-shot bid. But it also means that there will be an assertive voice on the GOP stage pushing for muscular foreign policy and cooperation with Democrats to advance the national interest.

“I am ready to be commander in chief on Day One,” Mr. Graham said in his announcement speech, which focused almost exclusively on foreign affairs and national security. Stressing his 33 years of service as an Air Force lawyer, which took him into the United States’ major combat zones over the past decade, Mr. Graham vowed to keep the country’s armed forces strong and its enemies weak. “As president, I will make them small, poor and on the run,” he said of the Islamic State.

This is not a sudden turn for Mr. Graham, who has demanded over the years that the United States see through its entanglements in Afghanistan and Iraq, stand up to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and engage earlier and more forcefully in Syria, which might have prevented some of the horror now engulfing the Syrian people.

Mr. Graham’s passion can lead him to stray into hyperbole. “We live in the most dangerous times imaginable,” he said on Fox News in 2013, reflecting his habit of painting foreign events in which U.S. interests are at stake as direct and dire threats to the homeland. The policy results, such as his opposition to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, can be too extreme. Even so, his clear focus on promoting U.S. engagement in the Middle East and beyond will counterbalance those in the GOP race trying to steer the party in an isolationist direction.

Mr. Graham will have an easier time selling Republican primary voters on maintaining American strength than he will defending his record on domestic policy. He noted Monday that he believes in lean government, and he promised to promote “social conservative values without apology.”

He opposes same-sex marriage and often talks about the importance of faith in his life. But he has been a strong advocate for sensible immigration reform, he openly grants that humans are driving climate change and he worked with Democrats on policy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. He has taken these sorts of stands even though they were sure to draw strong GOP primary opposition, which he got in his reelection campaign last year.

Worse for his presidential ambitions, Mr. Graham continues to promote the heretical notion that the parties can and should cooperate. “I want to be president to help us build a future greater than our amazing past, and I’ll work with anyone to do it,” he said. “To my friends in the other party … you’re not my enemy, you’re my fellow countrymen.”

Mr. Graham doesn’t spare President Obama much criticism, often attacking him on foreign policy with as sharp an edge as Ted Cruz employs against Democrats. But Mr. Graham was also one of the few GOP senators eager to work with the president when he entered the Oval Office.

Mr. Graham’s form of ambitious patriotism may not be what Republicans are seeking. But he has earned their attention.