Earlier this week, a bunch of people gathered at North Charleston City Hall to yell at a cardboard cut-out of Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Not too long ago, a Myrtle Beach tea party group threw our senior senator a “retirement party.” Another group wanted to put Graham’s face on a milk carton.

And Thursday, the Tea Party Express — which bills itself as the largest tea party political action committee — came to Charleston to complain about Graham’s unwillingness to join their fight to defund Obamacare.

“He needs to be in the state, holding town halls and listening to his constituents,” said Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express. “He thinks he’s better, thinks he knows better. He’s one of the elites.”

You know, a guy could get the feeling some people out there just don’t like him — especially the 10 or so people who showed up Thursday for the Tea Party Express press conference (not including two of the people running against Graham).

Make no mistake, these folks are passionate. And they believe they are the only ones fighting to “restore liberty” and “honor the Constitution.”

Problem is, they are a little fuzzy on the details. And honestly, Graham does know more than they do.

And that’s why he’s going to eat their lunch.

Do the math

These tea party people are right about one thing: Obamacare is unpopular.

Most recent polls show that a plurality, if not majority, of Americans have an unfavorable view of the Affordable Care Act.

But polls also show a clear majority oppose Republican efforts to defund the program, which is what the Tea Party Express is pushing.

Although the group claimed it’s not getting into individual races at this time, it was all over Graham for not signing Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s pledge to vote against any budget that includes money for Obamacare.

Tellingly, they said little about Sen. Tim Scott, who has not signed on either.

But Graham has a target on his back. He’s a Republican in Name Only, they say. You can hear the disdain dripping from their voices when they mention his willingness, on occasion, to compromise.

That’s a four-letter word in the tea party’s world.

Instead, these groups adore Sens. Lee, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. You have to wonder if the mostly retired folks in the crowd Thursday realized that those guys, if in power, would soon turn their attention to Medicaid and, yes, Medicare.

Richard Cash, a corporate computer analyst, small business owner and missionary, is almost without question the most formidable opposition Graham faces. He told the Tea Party Express crowd that his hero is Jim DeMint.

And what does DeMint have in common with Cruz, Rubio and the others? Yeah, he helped them get elected.

What they don’t point out is that DeMint’s endorsements of numbskulls in Delaware, Indiana and Missouri cost the Republican Party the U.S. Senate.

That’s why Graham isn’t wasting time on this defund Obamacare thing. He can count.

And the conservatives don’t have the votes in the Senate.

Thanks to DeMint.

Dreams of sheep

Of course, Ronald Reagan’s hallowed name was invoked Thursday at the Tea Party Express meeting.

Funny, these folks don’t remember that Reagan compromised often with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and even — gasp — raised taxes a few times. A lot of mainstream Republicans like to grouse that Reagan couldn’t even make it through a primary these days if he faced tea party litmus tests.

And it’s possible Graham could lose to a DeMint disciple — this is, after all, South Carolina.

Trouble is, every time the tea party knocks out one of the Republican Party’s elder statesmen, they open the door for Democrats to take a seat that would otherwise go to the GOP (see Missouri, Indiana).

And that’s the thing. Clearly, the tea partiers can read polls. They should look at the ones that show they are in the clear minority. Most people don’t believe in their brand of extremism.

They know that politics is the art of compromise. At least it used to be, back in the days of Reagan.

That’s why this idea of a Senate filled with Lees, Cruzes and Pauls is a pipe dream.

And the goal of defeating Graham is, at best, about as likely as defunding Obamacare.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com