Where I live, I normally take a Republican primary ballot, because that’s the only way I get any choices, especially on local races.
But four years ago, I broke with that pattern because of one race: I wanted to vote for Vincent Sheheen. I was so disappointed by the whole Republican field for governor (even Henry McMaster, whom I had expected to like for the job, but hated the campaign he ran), and I wanted to have the positive experience of voting for somebody for governor, rather than trying to pick the least of evils on the GOP side. I did this even though it meant I was disenfranchised, unable to state a choice as a voter in several races in which the GOP primary was the election (and again, it is SO wrong that a voter has to make a choice like that — we should get a say on everyone who represents us).
Today, I went back to the GOP, so I didn’t have that problem. But still, as in 2010, my mind was on one race and one race only. Even if there had been compelling contests on the Democratic side that I wanted to weigh in on (there weren’t), I would have taken a GOP ballot simply to vote for Lindsey Graham. On this day, that was the best and highest use of my right and responsibility as a voter.
Totally apart from the fact that he deserves re-election and is a far better candidate than his challengers, the contest for his seat has much broader implications for our state.
The worst thing that can happen to South Carolina in today’s primaries would be for Graham to lose, and the second worst would be for him to get into a runoff.
If he loses (and a runoff makes it more likely that he might actually lose, if all the Graham haters unite behind one candidate), don’t ever expect to see a South Carolina Republican take a political risk in order to do the right thing for a long, long time. He would be the cautionary example of what happens if you think for yourself and stick your neck out.
Conversely, if he wins decisively today, it affirms the kind of thoughtful, principled representation of which we all know he, unlike his opponents, is capable.
The crowd of people running against him all smell blood in the water. Some are just dangerous extremists (Lee Bright) and others are opportunists willing to benefit from his vulnerability — and willing to cater to that same extremism in order to conquer. That must not be rewarded.
All sensible, moderate South Carolinians, regardless of party, should be asking for a GOP primary ballot today, and voting for Graham. And yet I know so many will find excuses not to.
One of my best friends, who for several years constituted the “liberal” wing of The State‘s editorial board (as he would tell you, though, more of a New Republic liberal than a Mother Jones liberal), wrote for a lot of Democrats and independents yesterday when he said:
“If those things happen, don’t EVER expect to see a South Carolina Republican take a political risk in order to do the right thing for a long, LONG time.”
When was the last time that actually happened? Has Lindsey Graham done anything in public during his current term that I actually am thankful for? I’d like to be wrong about this, but I can’t think of one thing in the last six years that I actually approve of. Anything?
It only took me a moment to come up with three good answers to that question:
1. He was the only Republican from SC to vote to reopen the government last fall — even as he was bracing himself for the current onslaught from the right.
The list of things that please me would be longer, but I was looking at it from Mike’s perspective. (The second and third points are particularly important, because they illustrate Graham living up to the principle he so often states — that elections have consequences, and unless a president’s nominees are simply unqualified, they should be confirmed. This is an incredibly important principle to the healthy functioning of our system of republican government, and all too rare today — it’s something that the ideologues of the left and right can’t even wrap their heads around. It’s the kind of thing that separates a statesman from a hack.)
It is SO easy for moderates (and the very few liberals in SC) to be turned off by Graham’s recent emphasis on messages that appeal to the hard right — opposition to Obamacare, going on and on about Benghazi, etc.
And of course, some of our friends — Bud and Doug come to mind — find that two-faced and deceptive. They’re wrong. And moderates (or liberals) who see only the things they don’t like, forgetting the things that they do like, are wrong as well.
There is absolutely nothing wrong, or deceptive, or duplicitous about stressing positions that you honestly hold that appeal to people who might vote for your opponents. An honest politician has not only a right, but an obligation to let voters who might be heavily critical of him know that he actually agrees with them on issues that are important to them. Graham has been a vocal opponent of Obamacare from the start; he and John McCain have been the main critics of the administration on Benghazi. And he is, just as he claims, a social conservative.
And moderates and those few liberals who may be turned off by this kind of campaign need to stop and think — this is the only way a guy like Lindsey Graham gets re-elected in this state. Your alternative is not Elizabeth Warren (God help us), or whoever you like out there. Your alternative is Lee Bright, or someone who in office would act like Lee Bright.
The kind of courage and thoughtfulness and sense of responsibility that Graham exhibits, at great political risk, on issues such as judicial confirmation, foreign aid, fiscal issues, immigration and energy are rare qualities. And no one else running for this office exhibits them.
For someone as high-profile as Graham to be brought low by the extreme Lilliputians of the Tea Party would be a tragedy for South Carolina, because nothing could be more guaranteed to make sure we don’t see his kind of courage in the future.
We can’t afford to lose this one guy who puts his country before party doctrine. We can’t afford to lose Lindsey Graham.