U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham made his political career as a fixture on the Sunday morning news shows.
But it was the lack of TV debate time, among other factors, that cost him his White House run, he and his camp said.
After a disappointing six-month campaign in which he repeatedly polled at the back of the pack, Graham bowed out Monday, telling supporters by way of a video message that his bid was over.
“I got into this race to put forward a plan to win a war that we cannot afford to lose and to turn back the tide of isolationism that was rising in our party,” Graham said, referring to his call for a boots-on-the-ground strategy in the war on terror. “I believe we made enormous progress in this effort.”
The announcement came on the last day for Graham to strike his name from the Feb. 20 S.C. Republican primary ballot.
He now joins a long list of South Carolinians who have run for the White House but failed, including in recent times Fritz Hollings, Jesse Jackson and John Edwards.
Graham’s exit also assuredly will spark a scramble among the remaining 12 Republicans over who can lay claim to the foreign policy/national security leadership mantle.
Plus, there will be a grab for what’s left of Graham’s staff, donors and his endorsements. At the top of that list is David Wilkins of Greenville, the former S.C. House speaker and one-time U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Wilkins, who earlier said he would back former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush if Graham were to exit, on Monday declined to discuss his support for Bush, saying the day should instead be reserved for recognizing Graham and his accomplishments.
“When it all began, he was the lone voice talking about taking the fight to ISIS,” said Wilkins, who added that most of the candidates have since upped their calls for military intervention.
Attempts to reach Graham, R-S.C., on Monday were unsuccessful. His campaign said he would be taking time off for Christmas to spend with his family before re-engaging in the political process.
Graham’s last words to the media were critical of how the GOP has allowed the race to be run so far, pointing to debate participation being tied to polling performance. Graham never made it on to the main stage during any of the five televised debates held so far, meaning he never got to engage front-runner Donald Trump as he’d publicly hoped.
“You just can’t punch through when you’ve got a two-tiered system,” Graham told CNN. “I just don’t see a way for me to get on the main stage in time to make a difference.”
Republicans should “never do this again” he added.
Graham entered the race touting his knowledge of foreign affairs and national security issues. In the video, Graham expressed optimism that the GOP field would do the right thing in pointing toward a military solution versus ISIS.
“I’m far more confident today that our party will reject the Obama doctrine of leading from behind, and will provide the strong leadership America needs to restore our military, take the fight to our enemies, and do what it takes to make our country safe and preserve our way of life,” he said.
Graham, 60, in his third term in the Senate, formally announced his bid on June 1 to a crowd of hundreds in his hometown of Central. “I intend to be president not of a single party, but of a nation. I want to do more than make big government smaller. I want to help make a great nation greater,” he said.
The reality was his bid never caught on. In more recent times he staked his campaign future on performing well in New Hampshire by trying to rekindle the support his close ally, Arizona Sen. John McCain, collected there in his two unsuccessful White House runs. That didn’t happen, despite spending more than 50 days in the Granite State, more than any other Republican in the race. Most polling had him in the low 1 percent to 2 percent range.
Graham’s fundraising also fell short of what he’d hoped. His staff said they could be competitive if they could reach $15 million to $20 million to carry him through the early voting states, leading into a home-state advantage in South Carolina. As of this fall, he had raised about $7.8 million.
The seemingly high point of his campaign came after Trump released Graham’s private cellphone number during a speech in Bluffton, and Graham responded with a humor-driven video in which he demolishes several mobile phones.
Former Charleston County GOP Chairman Mark Hartley was on a conference call Monday morning when Graham told supporters that he had hit a wall and could not go forward.
“He basically said it was clear he was not going to get into the upper tier of the debate,” said Hartley, a member of Graham’s national advisory committee.
“I hate it,” Hartley said of the decision. “I wish he would have at least stayed until South Carolina.”
During the call, Graham made no mention of endorsing another candidate, Hartley said.
S.C. Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore credited Graham for “changing the course of the race” with his concentration on foreign affairs and addressing the war on terror.
“I don’t think it’s a reflection on his abilities,” said Moore, who expected Graham to return full-steam to his duties representing South Carolina in the Senate.
Graham also hoped his rise from Upstate poverty would have played well among Republican voters in the crowded field. Early in the campaign he published an e-book of his story, relating how he grew up in the back room of his family’s Sanitary Cafe and country bar and pool room. He also told of how both his parents died 15 months apart while he was still in college, forcing him to help raise his younger sister, Darline, before entering the Air Force and following a political career.
Graham was re-elected to another six-year term in the Senate last year after a bitter primary race.
In his exit video, Graham took credit for the GOP field shifting the discussion of how to wage war against the Islamic State toward a more direct military confrontation. He spoke of his first debate performance four months ago when he said that any candidate “who did not understand that we need more American troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIL is not ready to be commander in chief.”
“At that time, no one stepped forward to join me,” Graham said, but added, “today, most of my fellow candidates have come to recognize this is what’s needed to secure our homeland.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham announced Monday he was ending his bid for the Republican nomination to run for the presidency.×