A leftover from yesterday, and a rare example of Graham answering a question on war in a way that’s hard to imagine coming from his buddy McCain. If Maverick was asked, in response to a call for ground troops against ISIS, what he’d say to Americans who are tired of war, I suspect he’d answer empathetically. “I’m tired of war too. We’re all tired. I know only too well how horrible war can be for American troops and their families. But if we don’t stop ISIS now, there’ll be terror camps all over Iraq and Syria in five years.” None of that apologetic lip service from Graham. If you don’t want interventionism on steroids, go find yourself another candidate. Maybe the difference is that McCain was a plausible candidate for the nomination when he ran for president and Graham isn’t, so Graham can get away with rhetorical shrugs like this. But I don’t know. His hawkishness is so over the top that it’s hard to imagine him responding any other way even if he was ahead of the field by 10 points. This is who he is. I’m surprised he didn’t say at the end, just as a flourish, “And once we’re done with ISIS, it’s on to Ukraine.” Graham 2016: Bring back the draft.
You know what he could have said, which would have been both true and not nearly as brusque as his middle finger to war-weary voters here? “The next president’s going to have no choice but to send ground troops against ISIS, whether that president is me or not.” It’s coming. And Americans seem okay with it.
Two-thirds of American voters favor doing “whatever it takes” to defeat ISIS. They also think the White House doesn’t have a clear plan to get the job done…
About half — 51 percent — favor sending a limited number of U.S. ground troops to Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS. Support drops to 37 percent for sending a “significant number” of troops.
And less than half of voters — 43 percent — favor providing weapons to Iraq and Jordan to fight extremists.
What will that 37 percent figure look like once ISIS starts seizing parts of Kurdistan, which is less of a hypothetical than you may think? What will it look like if/when the jihadis finally make their move on Baghdad? When it comes to ISIS, the difference between Graham and everybody else running for president may have less to do with policy outcomes than with simple enthusiasm for what’s coming.
Meanwhile, Sean Trende asks a good question:
I wonder if Graham is running to try to take South Carolina out of contention on someone else's behalf. Question is, who?
— Sean T at RCP (@SeanTrende) June 5, 2015
You know what I think about that: Graham’s ego is big enough that he may legitimately feel no one else in the field is as qualified on natsec to be president as he is, regardless of whether he has a realistic shot at the nomination or not. He needs to give America the chance to elect him — even if, paradoxically, he ends up helping Rand Paul by drawing hawkish votes in South Carolina that otherwise might have gone to Marco Rubio or another hawk. But assume I’m wrong and that Trende is right. Assume that Graham is a stalking horse for someone. Who’s he stalking for? It’s got to be Jeb Bush, right? Rubio is quietly going all in to win South Carolina, knowing that if he does, it’ll give him momentum in Florida. If he wins Florida, then it’s bye-bye Jeb, the biggest obstacle for Rubio en route to the nomination. If Graham can stop Rubio in South Carolina, it’ll help Jeb in Florida, where a win could propel Bush to the nomination. And President Jeb might be sufficiently grateful to make Graham his AG or, God help us, his secretary of defense.