Poor Lindsey Graham.
South Carolina’s senior senator has worked hard to shore up his home state support heading into an election year, and this week President Trump — as usual — took credit for his success.
“Yeah, Lindsey Graham was doing OK in South Carolina,” Trump said at an Orlando campaign event on Tuesday. “Not great. Now he’s through the roof. Great. Thank you. Great job. Thank you.”
Of course, that’s not exactly true. The senator’s statewide approval rating, according to a new Post and Courier-Change Research poll, stands at 45 percent. Which is exactly where Graham’s numbers were in 2014, the last time he was up for re-election.
But Graham may indeed feel grateful to the president, despite the bellicose blustering. Because the 45 percent he has on his side now is much more important to him than the 45 percent in his corner five years ago.
In fact, it makes his re-election much more likely.
Five years ago, Graham was fairly popular among moderates of both parties. He was seen as one of the few adults in D.C. Like his mentor, John McCain, Graham worked with people on both sides of the aisle and mostly focused on policy, as opposed to pandering. And he tried to find consensus on immigration.
All of that was apparently treasonous behavior to some GOP primary voters. Which is why former state Sen. Lee Bright, Nancy Mace and four other folks saw an opportunity to oust Graham in the primary.
The senator eventually won, and didn’t even need a runoff to do it. But Graham certainly didn’t want to go through that again ... since you can never tell what might happen in a primary.
So the senator has been trying to rehabilitate his image among the Republican faithful for the past year or so. He not only quit calling Trump “crazy” and “unfit for office,” he’s actually sidled up to the president and become one of his best buddies — a regular presence on the golf course and at Mar-a-Lago. You know, the places Trump spends most of his time.
That’s helped Graham some among primary voters, but he really won them over last fall when he pitched a fit during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. How dare someone try to smear a man with scurrilous charges of inappropriate sexual conduct, said the former Clinton impeachment leader.
Since then, the folks who used to call Lindsey “Sen. Grahamnesty” have been absolutely over-the-moon for him.His support among the GOP base is so strong right now that no credible Republican has even suggested they might challenge him. Which was unthinkable two years ago.
So, in essence, everything is going according to plan.
But some might ask, what about the trade-off in support?
Truth is, Graham couldn’t care less about losing some moderates because he understands basic math. There are simply more Republicans than Democrats in South Carolina.
In statewide races, the GOP candidate usually wins with support in the low to mid-50s. For instance, in 2014 Graham beat state Sen. Brad Hutto 54 percent to 39 percent. Which is similar to the outcome in the past few races for governor.
That divide is pretty entrenched. In this most recent poll, about 52 percent of voters say they’d cast a ballot for Graham versus 35-36 percent who said they’d support Jaime Harrison or whoever the Democratic nominee is.
As unreliable as polls can be, those numbers are almost undoubtedly in the ballpark.
This has worked out well for Graham. He has basically avoided a troublesome primary battle and done little to harm his chances in the general election — when, by the way, he will be on the ballot with Trump, who is 11 points more popular than Graham in South Carolina.
In other words, don’t expect to see any political shift from Graham’s camp for the next year and a half. The senator has already done the math, and it’s adding up quite nicely for him.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.