Lindsey Graham seemed like an entirely different person at the GOP mini debate Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. His first debate performance August 6 was uncomfortable to watch, as he either came off as nervous or just plain boring, but this time around, he acted more confident and was clear, relatable, and even funny. Graham was still in the mini debate for the lowest ranking Republican candidates, and he used it to his advantage, joking about the audience and showing up the other three men on stage — Rick Santorum, George Pataki, and Bobby Jindal. The multiple moments Graham was winning the GOP mini debate show huge improvement from his awkward performance at the first Republican debate a month ago.
Graham's campaign focus didn't change on Wednesday — he still talked about protecting America from ISIS more than his competitors, as he has a knack for circling his answer to any question back to military action in the Middle East. While what he said wasn't that different from the first debate, the way he said it made him appear more like a qualified politician and less like a scared high schooler in a public speaking class. The added jokes didn't hurt either.
Here are four moments Lindsey Graham was winning the mini debate, compared to his mediocre presence in the first Republican showdown.
During Wednesday's debate, candidates had the chance to introduce themselves to viewers, and Graham started off with a joke about the audience. He said, "One, thanks, CNN, for having people at this debate," referring to the embarrassingly small crowd at the first underdog presidential forum last month. Of course, his statement went on to talk about his military experience and how he wants to "destroy radical Islam," but lightening the mood with a joke made him more likable from the beginning.
In the August 6 debate, Graham jumped right into answering a question about whether or not Republicans can trust him when it comes to climate change. His answer wasn't anything special, saying that he would focus on solutions to the problem, and it really set the tone for the rest of his debate presence — boring and forgettable.
On Drinking More
Not only was Graham's joke about drinking more in office hilarious, it also showcased his improved speaking skills. He was able to deliver the joke perfectly and continue on to make a point about working with Democrats, while still sounding professional.
In August, Graham had a difficult time articulating his thoughts, and often fumbled over words or sounded childish. His solution to getting Americans to work instead of taking "government handouts" was a perfect example. He said: "I think Americans are dying to work. We just need to give them a chance." His awkward cough also sums up a lot about his first debate performance.
By saying, "I wasn't the best law student. By the end of this debate, it'll be the most time I've ever spent in any library," Graham proved that he can not only be funny, but also honest about his capabilities.
Previously, all Graham talked about was how much military experience he had and how he was the best person to defeat ISIS. He couldn't even answer a question about Planned Parenthood without brining up his expertise. All that bragging can be helpful, but when it's repeated over and over again, it starts to become a turnoff. We get it, you've been to Iraq a few times.
When discussing immigration with Santorum, Graham proved that he actually knows how to debate with someone. He stood up for his immigration plan, while bashing Santorum's track record on the issue. He even defended Hispanics by saying: "Hispanics are Americans."
Unlike Wednesday's performance, Graham didn't fully debate with other candidates in the first forum, and even when he talked about issues he's passionate about, his comments didn't come off as forceful or strong. His monotone speech was anything but engaging for viewers.