- Mitt Romney decided not to run for a third try. He may have noted two things against him: the establishment wing of the Republicans had their boy Jeb Bush already, and the social conservative wing had their boy Huckabee (who could have pummeled Mitt as THE Not-Mitt candidate in 2012).
- Lindsey Graham decided to put his name out there. Which elicited about three mild "yays" from his Beltway fanbase and a shrug from everyone else out there.
I was wondering when a politician like Graham was going to make the gesture. The primary field for the Republicans right now skews to two types of candidate: the economic-minded and the evangelical/social-minded. Until Graham popped up, they really didn't have anybody covering the third: foreign policy issues.
While the Republican Party as a whole is social conservative, some candidates are more dedicated than others. Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister, for God's sake. Santorum campaigns hard on an anti-gay, pro-fetus platform. Carson pretty much only has his public devotions/social agenda to back his campaign. Of the remaining professional elected officials, Jindal leans more on the God's Party ideology than on their economic or managerial work as governor.
And while the Republican Party as a whole is totally dedicated to cutting corporate taxes for the uber-rich and deregulating everything into privatized markets, some are more tax-cut and spending-cut than others. This is where the "establishment" type candidates harken, such as Jeb and Christie and Rand Paul and Perry and Walker. This is where the likes of Carly Fiorina would run their campaigns, as business-savvy leaders of industry and masters of finance (which, all things considered, they are not).
That leaves out the other foundation of the modern GOP, the foreign policy wonkery. Ever since the Cold War, there's been a faction of the Republicans obsessed more with international relations (do as we say) and handling foreign threats (nuke 'em from orbit) than with domestic issues. Ever since Nixon in 1968, there's been at least one candidate who presented themselves as "the serious adult" in the room when it came time to deal with Soviet Russia. That was Bush the Elder in both 1980 (losing to Reagan's more social-conservative platform) and 1988 (beating out Dukakis who couldn't pull off that idiotic look of him driving a tank) and 1992 (losing to Clinton who ran on the economy). In 1996, there was Richard Lugar, who lost out to Dole who still commanded some foreign policy cred as a long-standing Senate leader: this was against a field of Social candidates (Buchanan, Dornan) and Economic (Alexander, Gramm, Forbes). In 2000, Dubya was clearly running on social ("compassionate conservatism") and economic platforms alongside Keyes (he may have been an ambassador as a career but his topics were clearly about God, God, and more God) and Forbes (tax cuts, obviously), leaving the foreign policy issues mostly to McCain.
By 2008, the Republicans had lost their reputation on foreign policy dealings having alienated our allies and wasted lives and money on two unfunded and unpopular wars. Yet McCain was one of the front-runners that open season exactly because of his foreign policy creds. Everyone else was either social con (Huckabee, Keyes, Hunter) or the tax-cut business con (Romney, Ron Paul). Giuliani might have counted as a foreign policy candidate except his experience stopped at being mayor of New York, which left him with domestic policy (law and order) and tax-cutting stances: his only foreign policy stance was "9/11".
To note, 2012 was a screwy election cycle: the real platform for the Republicans that year was "Who was more Anti-Obama"? That primary was out-of-whack in that nobody could really step up as a foreign policy candidate: nearly everybody tripped over themselves trying to present themselves as the uber-religious candidate (Santorum and Bachmann in particular) or the uber-tax-cut candidate (Romney, Paul, Perry, Cain, Johnson). The only candidate with any serious foreign creds was Hunstman, and he didn't last long or gained much support.
Lindsey Graham is going to find the same problem. After the disastrous Bush the Lesser presidency where the dark day of 9/11 led to a prolonged invasion/occupation of Afghanistan and an unnecessary and wasteful invasion/occupation of Iraq, the entire nation seems burned out when it comes to foreign affairs. Obama's handling of Libya, Syria, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East is a prime example: he's avoided commitment of ground troops or peacekeeper efforts, using diplomatic efforts to try and minimize the ongoing bloodshed of the civil wars dotting that region and relying on local military forces - the Kurds against ISIL, local allies elsewhere - to avoid further entanglements. It hasn't been pretty - the Syrian war in particular has become a nightmare of refugees, extremist strife, and unending terror - but there's little else the American public will support.
The Republican candidates running on foreign policy as a primary topic will confront the same disconnect from voters. Most of the party's base is angered up on more localized matters: immigration, abortion, taxes, gutting Obamacare, guns, and hating Obama forever and ever. Mostly the same agenda the GOP supported in 2012. If there's any foreign policy issue they'll discuss, it's BENGHAZIGATE, which after three separate congressional investigations is still the same non-scandal it's been since 2012. Worrying about wars overseas means little to a GOP Tea Party base that wants Obamacare nuked and the Mexican border turned into the barbed-wire trenches of WWI.
Graham's not going to go very far if he thinks he can win on foreign policy. This isn't 2008 when the legacy of the Bush/Cheney wars was on the line, or 1988 when warming up relations between the US and USSR was a really big deal. This is 2016, same as 2012 and pretty much the same as 2008 and 2000 and 1996: the primaries platform is Hate
If I had to do a brief bio on Graham it'd be this:
Lindsey Graham - Senator, South Carolina
Positives: One of the leaders of the Senate for the Republicans for a long time. Won in a hard-core conservative state on a regular basis despite the reputation of being a RINO, which proves decent campaign skill. Has name recognition. Resides in a key early primary state (South Carolina)
Negatives: He's not considered as far right on a lot of issues as the party base would like. Has no national warchest to fund a major campaign (unlike Jeb, who's probably getting the keys to the Koch Brothers' billionaire storage closet as I type this). He's been unusually bipartisan working in the Senate with Democrats, which really angers up the Tea Party base (this would be a Positive under normal circumstances but it's a huge Negative in these partisan primaries). And just type in a Google search on "Lindsey Graham rumors": anybody who gets to be over 50 without getting married (or even having one questionable child out of wedlock) is gonna get labeled as "gay" whether they are or not.
Chances: Slim. If he's smart he's using this as an opportunity to put him out there as a Veep ticket balancer with the "foreign policy creds" to a candidate who's most likely winning on a social or domestic economic reputation. As for his personal life - or lack of one - it's going to get investigated in a big way if he heads to a national stage. Even if the rumors are wrong - it's entirely possible Graham is asexual or disinterested, or else very discreet with the whole hooker/mistress thing - he's not Mr. Popular with the Tea Partiers.
Character Chart: The thing that throws me is Graham's reputation for bipartisan work. While he's coming to the table with clearly Republican (i.e., bad) positions he's at least trying to get Democrats to bring their ideas (i.e., weak) into the bills (that end up going nowhere). He's not as pure an Active-Positive as possible - because his foreign policy aims still lean towards aggressive bombing and pray for divine intervention - but in this field of Active-Negatives in the GOP he's the closest they got.
And the voting base doesn't want Active-Positive...