I’m surprised and curious about his stance on the great reopening debate. Normally Graham is careful not to get crossways from Trump on an issue the president and his base are exercised about, and this is one of those issues. But Graham has been skeptical of easing social distancing restrictions since Trump first started talking about it in late March. Remember?
There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) March 23, 2020
That was back when the president was eyeing Easter as a target date for reopening. Fauci and Birx convinced him to ride it out until the end of April at least, which led to last week’s federal guidelines. Yesterday three southern governors announced they’d begin relaxing some of their lockdown orders, including Graham’s colleague in South Carolina, Henry McMaster. Graham’s fine with McMaster’s order, which is cautious in keeping many businesses closed and insisting that ones permitted to reopen maintain only 20 percent capacity to start. He’s less fine with what’s happening across the border in Georgia:
We respect Georgia's right to determine its own fate, but we are all in this together.
What happens in Georgia will impact us in South Carolina.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) April 21, 2020
I’ve made that point myself in a couple of posts using the examples of Louisiana and Mississippi, two states with a shared border where one has been hit hard and the other is eager to reopen. What happens in a situation like that, with one state wanting a cooling off period to give it time for cases to decline and the other wanting to heat up the economy ASAP? Graham’s confronting that dilemma right now. Georgia has twice the population of South Carolina but has had more than four times as many cases of COVID-19 and more than six times as many deaths. If they reseed a second wave of coronavirus by reopening prematurely, some of that’s going to spill over into South Carolina via cross-border traffic and potentially seed an outbreak there.
How are we going to solve this problem of neighboring states operating on different timetables? Is restricting interstate movement the only option? Would that even be legal? Imagine South Carolina trying to close its border with Georgia. With which state would Trump side in a dispute between red jurisdictions with lives on the line?
It shouldn’t escape your attention that Graham is up for reelection in six months and, although heavily favored, isn’t quite completely invulnerable.
South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison outraised GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham in the first quarter of 2020, according to fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission this week.
Harrison’s campaign brought in a total of $7.2 million in the first three months of 2020, while Graham brought in nearly $5.6 million. Campaigns were required to file their fundraising reports for the first quarter, which ended on March 31, with the FEC by midnight on Wednesday.
Graham outraised Harrison in the first quarter and has nearly $5 million more in cash on hand than the Democrat does. He’d be in no danger in normal times. But in April 2020 there’s a long-longshot scenario in which the Senate race tightens. For starters, black voters in the state who propelled Joe Biden to a momentous victory in the primary should be out in force this fall to pull the lever for him and for downballot Dems like Harrison. Harrison will obviously be well-funded too, as lots of liberals out there reeeeeally want to beat Lindsey. Even so, there’s no risk to Graham in any of that considering how reliably red South Carolina is — unless COVID-19 spirals out of control there, which may scramble normal partisan politics as usual. If Trump’s management of the crisis comes to be seen as a disaster, few Republican candidates nationally would be completely safe. And Graham would be in special jeopardy because he’s viewed as Trump’s loyal lackey. An anti-Trump backlash among independents might hit him especially hard.
So he’s hedging his bets. Yes, he’s a loyal servant to the president *but* he’s going to go his own way on coronavirus and take a conservative approach to restarting the economy. Go slowly and focus on solving the public health problem first, however Trump and MAGA-fied governors like Georgia’s Brian Kemp may feel about it. Graham wants to be able to say in the event of a second wave that he took the “safety first” approach, which aligns him with Democratic mayors in Georgia who claim they were taken by surprise by Kemp’s order yesterday:
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told ABC News she and other Democratic mayors were blindsided by Kemp’s move, the AJC reported.
“It appears that the governor’s orders supersedes anything that I can do as mayor, but I certainly still have my voice that I can use. And what I’ll continue to ask Atlantans to do is to please stay at home,” she said.
“I’m not sure what data the governor is referencing in helping him make this decision. I’ve not spoken with him. I’ve talked with the mayor of the second-most popular city in Georgia, Mayor [Hardie] Davis in Augusta. He’s not spoken with him. So we don’t know what the governor is looking at.”
Stacey Abrams got in a shot at Kemp too. Georgia’s reopening is firmly on the way to being a partisan issue for most elected officials — except for Graham, who’s flashing a little bipartisanship in advance of his election by opposing Trump and Kemp on this.
The latest national coronavirus data will bolster his case, too. Things have looked better in Georgia over the past week but “highest one-day death total in the U.S. so far” isn’t a great headline for Kemp as he goes about trying to convince Georgians that it’s safe to come out:
Deaths rose to a new single-day high in our dataset.
Because of weekend reporting lags, Tuesday numbers have set new highs (to that date) throughout April.
Tues 4/21: 2,674 deaths
Tues 4/14: 2,299 deaths
Tues 4/7: 1,926 deaths
Tues 3/31: 820 deaths pic.twitter.com/WrDAZkCuLF
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) April 21, 2020
Here’s Graham in an interview earlier today making the case against Kemp’s order. He’s clever in urging him to follow the federal guidelines, which is nominally Trump’s own policy even though the president clearly prefers a “reopen now” approach. Mainly Graham is concerned that Kemp is opening up too many businesses that aren’t natural candidates to lead the way. Barber shops? Nail salons? Those services require physical contact. They should be the last to come online, not the first.