Lindsey Graham: Contender or Spoiler?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

The GOP presidential field reached 9 candidates yesterday with the announcement of Lindsey Graham, the senior Senator from South Carolina.  Graham brings to the table several fresh positions, most notably on immigration reform, which could separate him from the rest of the Republican contenders, according to the International Business Times:

…A former Air Force lawyer, Graham adds a hawkish foreign policy background to the contest, and has come out in favor of policies that many of his competitors have shied away from, including a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

Graham’s position on immigration is a rare one in the primary: Although Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Scott Walker have endorsed paths to legal status in the past, currently the only contender with a similar plan is Governor Jeb Bush, who has stood by plans for immigration reform despite attacks by party rivals.  Most of the candidates agree that Republicans need to address immigration reform in order to be competitive in next year’s presidential election, and Graham’s stance would likely help him if he made it to the general.

That said, how much of an impact Graham will have on the race will ultimately come down to his appeal, and the Business Times notes some potential trouble for him there: Graham is well known for his moderate positions on spending and a hawkish foreign policy platform which includes controversial statements on drone strikes for U.S. citizens with suspected terrorist ties.  Both of these traits might hurt him with a party that is spending averse and increasingly uncomfortable with our nation’s foreign policy.  This, added to some of his recent statements on gay marriage, could turn enough of the electorate against him to hurt his chances at the nomination.

Graham’s entrance into the race could  also have unintended consequences for both him and Governor Bush: One of Bush’s main advantages up to this point is that he hasn’t had any major competition for center-right voters, and even a small reduction in that number could cost him his front runner status to other contenders like Scott Walker or Marco Rubio.  Ultimately, it seems possible that Lindsey Graham could end up as more of a spoiler than a contender in his own right.

Nick Arnold is a researcher for American Principles in Action.