The Alarming Reason Lindsey Graham's Withdrawal From The 2016 Race Should Concern America
The 2016 White House race is officially over for Lindsey Graham. In a video announcement posted to his official YouTube page on Monday, the South Carolina senator declared that he would no longer be seeking the presidency, offering his fellow candidates sage advice regarding the rise of right-wing extremism that has been plaguing the party of late. For conservatives, Graham dropping out of the 2016 race proved one thing: The GOP has been officially co-opted by the fringes of Congress' Republican arm — and it isn't good news for anyone.
Of course, Graham is not the only casualty of late. In late September, former House Speaker John Boehner became one of the first high profile members of Congress to resign after years of pressure from groups like the now-inactive Tea Party Caucus and the Freedom Caucus, both of whom considered Boehner a Democratic lackey in sheep's clothing. In Graham, far right conservatives once again saw a Bush-era establishment candidate that could potentially prevent their efforts to push the party in their respective direction going forward.
"I was hoping not to have to make this call, but I think the time has come for me to suspend my campaign," Graham told supporters in a call on Monday, according to Politico. "[But] I didn't get into this campaign to run other people down, and to bring out the worst in who we are as a party or a country — I think what makes America great is our tolerance for each other and the fact that we respect people who are different."
Graham's announcement may have come as something of a surprise to those who believed his primary debate performance on Tuesday last week had earned him at least a few more weeks in the 2016 race — less so to number-hawks who have predicted his demise since the early days of his campaign.
In recent weeks, Graham has been polling between 0 and 1 percent overall, placing him squarely at the back of the pack. In September, South Carolina newspaper The Greenville News reported that Graham's poll numbers were too low for him to even qualify for a candidate forum in his home state.
Graham's departure on Monday prompted a flurry of commentary and criticism from both Washington and the GOP field. "Republicans lost our most qualified, thoughtful, fearless and honest presidential candidate, not to mention the candidate with the best (and it seemed sometimes the only) sense of humor," Arizona senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain wrote in a statement on Monday.
McCain, who has faced down charges of moderate conservatism himself, went on to blast what he believed was a risky split within the GOP that could potentially lead the GOP down a dangerous path. "As the candidate with the most national security experience, and, in my opinion, the most practical and honorable views of American world leadership, Lindsey stood up to and helped stem the rise within our party of isolationism and obliviousness in world affairs, and indifference to human suffering."
In a sit-down with NPR News last week, President Obama too suggested that Graham was perhaps the only forthright candidate in the GOP race, in terms of foreign policy and the war against ISIS. "To his credit," Obama said, "I think Lindsey Graham is one of the few who has been at least honest about suggesting 'here is something I would do that the president is not doing.' He doesn't just talk about being louder or sounding tougher in the process."
That sort of grudging bipartisanship, however limited, should have been seen as something of a victory for the GOP. But with front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz sailing high on a record of derogatory right-wing rhetoric, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the pack followed suit and pushed out more comparatively centrist outliers.
Even Graham's hawkish stances on the Middle East and ISIS (the South Carolina senator was adamant that the fight against the jihadist group required a deliberate, boots on the ground effort in order to succeed) weren't enough to earn him a spot at the center of the polls. On Monday, at least one candidate vocally backed Graham's proposal to send 20,000 troops overseas to take on the Islamic State while simultaneously praising the senator's stubborn 2016 run.
"Nobody is more clear-eyed about ISIS than my friend [Sen. Graham]," wrote former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has been struggling to separate himself from the Republican establishment as well, in a statement on Twitter. "As he leaves the race I hope our party & country listen to his counsel."
Graham's announcement Monday may not have been entirely unforeseen — after all, according to experts, all signs pointed to a hasty exit that should have logically come months ago. Still, Graham's withdrawal leaves a definitive gap in the GOP field where at least one or two traditionally minded Republicans should have been able to slot themselves. The fact that Graham, with his witticisms and even-handedness, was unable to do so simply proves that conservatism as we previously knew has taken a back seat to a much more concerning era of right-wing demagoguery that will ultimately do much more harm than good.