Sen. Lindsey Graham has pulled the plug on his struggling presidential bid. In a video posted on his website Monday, he announced that he’s suspending operations immediately.
“You have honored me with your support. I believe we have run a campaign we can be proud of,” Senator Graham said.
In some ways it’s a wonder that Graham held on as long as he did. It’s been clear for months that the hawkish South Carolinian was going nowhere. As Donald Trump sucked up all available media attention like a giant hirsute vacuum, Graham was reduced to a bit player, a foil for Trump’s gibes. By the end, he was polling at less than 1 percent in national surveys.
But throughout the fall, Graham appeared to become resigned to, and even revel in, serving as a sort of one-man Greek chorus to the rest of the field. (Some call such a person the “Choragos,” but we won’t be that academic.)
He’d run for president in the first place mostly to serve as an example of traditional GOP peace-through-strength hawkishness. In the end, he became the race’s meta-commentator, someone who espoused establishment positions while warning of the electoral dangers he felt inherent in Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz’s positions.
The apotheosis of this role may have come earlier this month at the Republican Jewish Coalition, where Graham gave a speech condemning Trump and Senator Cruz’s harsh rhetoric on social issues and undocumented immigrants. Such language risks handing the election to Hillary Clinton, Graham maintained.
“Graham’s closing message in the final weeks was ‘For the love of God, please don’t elect Trump or Cruz,’ ” tweeted MSNBC political reporter Benjy Sarlin on Monday.
With Graham’s exit, there are now zero GOP candidates who explicitly endorse a wide-ranging overhaul of the nation’s immigration policies and who continue to insist the GOP’s future rests on an ability to reach out to Hispanics (although Jeb Bush has come close).
Sen. Rand Paul, whose noninterventionist leanings were a main reason Graham ran in the first place, is still a candidate (though given his poll numbers, he may not last much longer).
Sen. Marco Rubio perhaps picks up the mantle of most-hawkish remaining contender.
And lastly, the race is probably now less fun. Graham’s wit and humor made the undercard debates watchable, even entertaining. Like his mentor Sen. John McCain, Graham was a favorite of journalists, who seldom meet a politician willing to just hang out and shoot pool while on a campaign trip.