After teasing his all-but-certain announcement several weeks ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined the 2016 presidential race on Monday, entering a congested GOP field that has yet to meet its max capacity. "I'm pretty sure no one here, including me, ever expected to hear me say, 'I'm Lindsey Graham, and I'm running for president of the United States," Graham declared Monday at a rally in his hometown of Central, South Carolina. "So get ready — I'm ready."
The senator spoke from the town's modest Main Street, just steps away from where his blue-collar parents ran a restaurant and pool hall. "As many of you know, Lindsey and I grew up in one room — not one bedroom, one room," Graham's sister, Darline Graham Nordone, said as she introduced the senator. She added that their upbringing instilled a "strong work ethic" in her brother.
Running on the theme of "Strength Through Security," Graham, who is no stranger to the descriptors "war hawk" or "hawkish," emphasized his foreign policy experience — a track record that includes voting for the Iraq War, pushing for further intervention in the Middle East and supporting the use of drones against both U.S. citizens and foreign terrorists. The South Carolina senator also served in the United States Air Force as a military lawyer and judge. He continued serving as a reserve officer while holding political office, and retired last week after 30 years of service.
"Ronald Reagan's policy of peace through strength kept America safe," Graham said. "But I've come to conclude that we'll never enjoy peaceful coexistence with radical Islam. ... Security through strength will protect us."
The senator added "radical Islam is running wild," and urged that the only way to defeat terrorist groups such as the Islamic State is to "go after their safe havens." Graham also raised concerns about Iran and reiterated support for Israel, the "only true Jewish state."
In recent weeks, Graham has been the focal point of fellow 2016 presidential candidate and anti-interventionist Sen. Rand Paul (D-Ky.), who launched an attack ad condemning Graham's interventionist philosophy and support of NSA surveillance, the latter of which the libertarian-minded Rand staunchly opposes. But Graham is also no stranger to the ire of conservatives, particularly those who were largely supported by the Tea Party movement. The senator has highlighted his ability of reaching across the aisle, working with Democrats on a number of policies, from foreign intervention to immigration reform here in the United States.
And on Monday, the senator pointed out that he may have the most experience in foreign policy than any other candidate in the 2016 presidential race. "That includes you, Hillary," Graham said to cheers from his audience.
In an interview with CBS This Morning on May 18, Graham explained the lack of collaboration between the two parties is one of his chief reasons for running for president. "In my view, Democrats and Republicans work together too little, and I would try to change that if I got to be president," Graham said. "It’s my ability, in my own mind, to be a good commander in chief, and to make Washington work."
Graham is expected to be a dark horse for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, polling behind the likes of Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, and probable yet still-unannounced candidate Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor. But Graham will possibly serve as a foil to his fellow candidates, particularly when it comes to foreign policy and bipartisanship, or the lack thereof in the current Congress.
Graham will also rival businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Dr. Ben Carson, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former New York Governor George Pataki, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. On the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley have announced their candidacies.
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