One of the reasons why the Republican presidential primary field is so big – and has stayed big for so long – is that the last primary season in the run-up to the 2012 elections saw virtually all of the candidates who stayed in the race for the long haul fight their way to the top of the polls at some point.
On Tuesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal apparently got tired of waiting for his big break and announced that he was dropping out of the campaign. Indeed, this time around, with Donald Trump in the race, the very top of the polls has so far been permanently occupied.
One of Jindal’s partners in futility though, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, must see the current focus on the threat posed by the terrorist group ISIS as his last, best shot to break out of the basement in the opinion polls and make himself a factor in the race.
Graham’s signature issue in the campaign has been his determination to keep the country safe from terrorism in general and ISIS in particular. He is so focused on it, in fact, that he was mocked after the first debate for clumsily turning almost every opportunity he was given to speak – even on topics including the economy and abortion – into a discussion of ISIS.
He was ready to do “whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to defeat them.”
It’s no surprise that Graham prefers to turn the discussion back to his hawkish defense stance, since the right-wing Republicans who are disproportionately represented among primary voters view him as a questionable candidate in other areas, including social policy and immigration reform.
In the wake of last week’s terror attacks in Paris and the ongoing battles there between police and what appear to be terrorist cells, this would seem like Graham’s moment to grab the attention of the voters. And the South Carolinian has been aggressively pushing his strategy for taking on ISIS in interviews and on social media.
On Wednesday, Graham announced that he would introduce a proposed authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to combat ISIS. (The Obama administration is currently attacking ISIS in Iraq and Syria under an old AUMF that was really meant to cover operations against al Qaeda.) The Graham AUMF places no geographical limits on the U.S. military and intelligence services in the fight against ISIS, not does it set limits on the amount of time the fight takes or what it costs.
While Graham isn’t the only one laying out plans to fight ISIS – Jeb Bush gave a major speech on defense policy Wednesday that called for more ground troops in the fight and Donald Trump released new radio ads promising to “bomb the hell out of” ISIS – he has the most riding on it.
If Graham can’t get a bump in the polls when his signature issue is dominating the news cycle, it’s virtually impossible to make a credible argument that he ought to remain in the race.
His problem, though, according to Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center on Politics, is that in the past week, the other GOP candidates have begun sounding a lot like him.
“Graham’s problem is actually, for him, a triumph: The other candidates are basically as hawkish as he is, which is what he wants (with the exception of the marginalized Rand Paul),” said Kondik.
“However, because that’s the case, it’s hard for him to get traction, particularly because on other issues he’s known to much of the party as a RINO-type figure.”