Lindsey Graham boxes himself in: Yeah, I think Trump should release his tax returns

I’m dying to know what Graham’s strategy was a few days ago in attacking his Senate opponent in South Carolina, Jaime Harrison, for having not yet released his tax returns. He didn’t just put out a statement demanding that Harrison release the documents either. He made a show of it.

Mention a politician suspiciously refusing to release his tax returns and every American of voting age thinks of the same person. Jaime Harrison isn’t that person.

The first backfire came when Harrison called his bluff. You want the returns? You got ’em.

The second backfire came when CNN inevitably asked Graham about Trump’s missing tax returns today, putting him in the awkward position of having to either make trouble for the hero of the MAGA base by holding him to the same standard as Harrison or be a complete hypocrite and look ridiculous. Graham chose the least bad option.

Asked if Trump should release his tax returns, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CNN on Thursday, “Yeah, I think everybody should. I’ve said that for a long time.”…

The President has repeatedly claimed that he is under audit and won’t release his tax returns as a result, triggering a lengthy legal battle for his financial records.

This isn’t the first time Graham has indicated he believes Trump should release his tax returns. He has previously said that everyone running for the White House in 2020 should release their tax returns…

Asked if Trump would campaign for him in South Carolina, Graham said: “I don’t foresee that.”

All he seems to have achieved here is potentially annoying some Trump fans in South Carolina by feeding a frequent media criticism of Trump. It looks “disloyal,” to borrow one of the president’s favorite terms, which isn’t something Graham can afford at a moment when Fox News hosts are scapegoating him for the Bob Woodward book. What was he thinking?

Maybe he’s struggling to find a line of attack on Harrison that’s effective and figured he might get something from the Democrat’s tax returns. Harrison is a former lobbyist who worked for the Podesta Group; he made a few million dollars there shilling for Walmart, Bank of America, Boeing, and so on. Maybe Graham’s thinking that highlighting Harrison’s swampy past will put some lefty voters off of him, which might be the difference in the race. This bit from Quinnipiac’s new poll of the race jumped out at me:

Highlighting Harrison’s upscale lobbyist past might sour the impression that he’s a man of the people, which is important since Graham’s polling at 45/48 on the same question. Harrison also scores better on honesty than Graham (+24 versus -9) and on general favorability (+13 versus -5). Lobbyists aren’t highly regarded by the public. The tax-return demand could be a mere pretext to get Harrison talking about his previous career.

I think Graham did national Republicans a favor by baiting Harrison this way, whether he meant to or not. By going on offense he signals that he’s worried about the race, and signaling that he’s worried may be received by Democrats nationally as a reason to pour more money into the state, which is money that won’t be spent elsewhere on more winnable races. CNN’s story reports that the DSCC is planning to make a seven-figure investment in Harrison’s campaign, which seems foolish considering that Harrison is raising big bucks on his own. Quinnipiac has the race 48/48, admittedly, but I doubt anyone expects Graham to lose in South Carolina unless Trump suffers a true blowout defeat nationally. Democrats should save their money.

I’ll leave you with this ad, which the Never Trumper outfit the Lincoln Project is running against him in South Carolina. It’s harsher than anything I’ve seen them run against Trump himself.

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