Bad mojo here for center-righties and Trump/Cruz-haters, not because adding Graham’s three voters to Jeb’s total will make Jeb a contender but because it suggests the 40-car pile-up in the moderate lane won’t be sorted anytime soon. Graham could have tried to winnow the field in his own small way by backing Rubio or Christie, the two strongest center-right candidates in New Hampshire, and signaling to the rest of the establishment that it’s time to unite. Instead this guy’s propping up lost-cause Jeb Bush, which will encourage Bush voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina to dig in rather than defect to Rubio or Christie. That’s the real consequence of today’s announcement, I think — not that Bush is likely to pick up new votes but that he’s more likely than he was yesterday to hold onto some of the ones he’s already got. The only winners from a deep stalemate in the center are Graham’s two least favorite candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and yet here we are.
What tipped the scale? Among other things, it was — what else? — immigration. If only Rubio had remained a proud defender of the Gang of Eight bill instead of the reluctant defender he is now, he too might have landed the Grahamnesty seal of approval.
.@LindseyGrahamSC endorses Jeb w an implied shot at Marco, praising him for staying "true" on immigration during primary.
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) January 15, 2016
Jeb! on Rubio/immigration: "Marco cut and run. He asked for my support and he cut and run. He cut and run on his colleagues."
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) January 15, 2016
Here’s another clue to what may have tilted Graham away from Rubio and towards Bush:
“It’s not enough to criticize Obama,” Graham said [earlier this month], according to The Greenville News. “All of us do it. But are you willing to criticize Trump? Are you willing to say Ted Cruz’s approach to immigration is not practical? Are you willing to say — when Ted Cruz says we’re going to eliminate the IRS — it’s not going to happen.”
That echoes a criticism of Rubio that Graham made in 2014 in an interview with the Weekly Standard: “He’s a good guy … but he’s so afraid of the right, and I’ve let that go.” Jeb’s the guy who’s been punching Trump in the face for the past few months, and Jeb’s the guy who jumped in early last year vowing that he was willing to “lose the primary in order to win the general,” which was his awkward way of saying that he wouldn’t pander to the right simply because it would improve his chances at the nomination. In Graham’s mind, I guess, Bush is more of a “fighter” than Rubio is — at least when it comes to fighting conservatives — and that’s more important than the fact that he’s a really bad fighter who’s doing more damage to Rubio lately than he is to Trump.
Meanwhile, as Graham is telling the world that Jeb Bush is alive and well and intends to soldier on to South Carolina after New Hampshire, Bush donors are waiting for Jeb 2016 to die.
POLITICO talked to nearly two dozen major donors, and most say they are waiting for what one veteran Republican and former Bush 43 administration appointee described as the “family hall pass” to jump to another campaign after the New Hampshire primary.
“I’m resigned to it being over, frankly. It’s really disappointing,” said one top Bush Wall Street donor. “I’d urge him to get out after New Hampshire if he doesn’t do well, but he probably won’t.”…
“Hey, I need you to throw away money on Jeb — out of loyalty,” a Bush fundraiser has told donors recently.
Add “backing Jeb after watching him circle the drain for eight months” to Graham’s long list of good ideas, like citizenship for illegals and promoting U.S. intervention every time there’s a conflict abroad.
None of this matters much, though. Jeb was probably set on soldiering on whether Graham backed him or not, as his only chance to win (and to sink Rubio) is through a war of attrition. What may matter is what Graham’s support suggests about John McCain’s intentions. McCain won New Hampshire twice and he’s a former party nominee. His endorsement will mean something to casual Republican voters in NH who haven’t made up their minds yet. Rubio could use his support and Mitt Romney’s if he’s going to surge past Christie and Bush in New Hampshire to become the consensus establishment choice. But … that support may not be coming:
“This is a time of turmoil, the likes of which we’ve never seen no matter how long we’ve been in the game,” said Sen. John McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee. He said in an interview that he’d back the eventual nominee but “obviously (Trump) would not be my selection.”
“I think I prefer others who have a better grasp in my view of the challenges we face,” McCain said, adding that he will stay neutral through the duration of the primary.
That’s not quite as good as an endorsement for Jeb but it’s almost as good in that it denies Rubio any splashy eleventh-hour momentum before the big vote. I wonder what Romney will do. He’s friendly with Rubio and Chris Christie, despite Christie having shivved him via that photo op with Obama right before the 2012 election. If Romney sits out too, Rubio’s going to have to find a way to break out in NH on his own. Are we past that point now?
Here’s the announcement, in which Graham notes how “eerily silent” other Republicans are about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., another dig at Rubio for not confronting the right aggressively enough. Incidentally, after McCain said he was unsure about Ted Cruz’s “natural-born” status, Cruz claimed that’s because he’s in the tank for Rubio. Can we dispense with that theory now?