South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham playing chess while haters play checkers

For Weekly SurgeFebruary 12, 2014 

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-Seneca) 2014 re-election slogan should be, “Haters gonna hate.” After all, it’s been the recurring theme of his tenure in office since becoming the first Republican to win a Senate seat in the state since the end of the Civil War. Few Republicans have divided the base of their party as widely as Graham, yet few have had to worry less about winning re-election.

How is it that a man, universally loathed by conservatives, libertarians and liberals alike, will likely return to the Senate for a third term in office representing the Palmetto State? One simple reason: Graham is playing chess, while his opponents are playing checkers.

Graham is not a conservative. And, if it weren’t for the now-amorphous GOP brand, he would barely qualify as a Republican. If one were to attempt to classify Graham’s politics, it would be some bizarre strain of neo-fascism, masked like a dagger in the gentile trappings of Southern family values. Graham is more akin to a foppish Francisco Franco than a President Ronald Reagan. Less fiscal conservative than war hawk, Graham frequently strokes the national paranoia of terrorism, keeping the general public paralyzed by fear as he helps President Obama gut The Constitution.

It’s no wonder why the conservative base of the Republican Party hates Graham. They know he’s not one of them, and several county chapters of the SCGOP have officially censured Graham for his so-called “betrayal” of Republican values. Last week, members of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party attempted to get the Horry County GOP executive committee to censure him as well. Their resolution failed, but not before an embarrassing display of political theatrics unfolded, relayed in the press accounts of the meeting.

What did the Myrtle Beach Tea Party think it was going to change with a 29-point resolution covering what we already know about Graham? The Myrtle Beach Tea Party could have passed a 100-point resolution, and it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference.

Graham is well aware of his infamy among conservatives. What the Tea Party has yet to realize is that Graham doesn’t care. To Graham, the Tea Party is nothing but a bunch of farmers with pitchforks, who only know how to make a lot of noise when they get too much time on their hands. With waning influence over voters, the Tea Party presents little challenge to a man who has a war chest infinitely deeper than any of his opponents, with an even longer list of wealthy friends waiting to refill it when asked.

To make matters worse for the Tea Party, Graham is a Republican running in a Republican state. His only true electoral challenge is the Republican primary, filled this year with an uninspiring field of undifferentiated candidates who only manage to generate press coverage for doing dumb things -- like trying to raise money by pimping-out the Newtown tragedy.

The Tea Party’s national success in 2010 was because it understood the importance of primary challenges. The nascent Tea Party (more of a political movement at the time than any official organization) was able to motivate voters to flood the primary, surprising many incumbent Republicans who failed to plan for a robust grassroots showing. Unfortunately, it seems that in the four years since, the Tea Party has largely left this strategy behind, in favor of…well, noise making.

If conservatives want Graham out of office, then it is time to take off the period costumes and start acting like serious adults. Symbolic procedural victories and sporadic street-corner protests are not going to unseat an entrenched establishment Republican in a state whose electoral elite see Graham as a safe, consistent bet. It’s going to take organization. It’s going to take strategy. And, it’s going to take money. And, none of these three things are currently within the realm of possibility for the South Carolina Tea Party; at least if what we have seen so far this cycle is any indication.

And, that’s why Graham isn’t worried.

It would be easy to say that Graham’s cunningness and the corruption of the GOP establishment are the reasons why he is now a shoo-in for a third term, but that would be a lie. It was conservatives who failed to give Graham a challenger in the 2002 primaries. It was conservatives who failed, again, to provide a credible challenger for Graham in 2008. And, now in 2014, it is conservatives once again who are only months from the primary without a unified candidate to rally behind.

Graham isn’t cheating in the game conservatives helped design for him years ago; he simply plays it better.

Offended? Titillated? Ready to hoist the black flag? Contact Andrew Davis at and follow him on Twitter at

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