Much like President Trump in the GOP primary in 2016, Graham is running the table in his fellow Republican primary competitors’ backyards, besting every candidate and essentially doubling his closest primary rival. (The margin of victory: a 45-point margin of victory over first-place Daniel Green. Sample question: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Lindsey Graham is performing as a U.S. Senator from South Carolina? Ready to move on? Oh, wait.) Graham, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, was by his own admission hesitant to enter the primary. He cited his Vietnam War military service as well as being on the same side with Marco Rubio in their disagreements over some of Trump’s policies. But Graham is now arguably the strongest candidate on the GOP side, at least as it sits right now. (Asked if Graham can win the nomination, the respondents to this GOP poll said yes by 72 percent.) He also holds a clear advantage with the GOP-leaning independent voters. If someone were to flip a coin to determine this contest, it would come up heads.
Note to South Carolina Republicans: What happens in the catfish-loving state doesn’t always stay in the state.
While Graham looked unimpressive for a majority of his earlier travels, it’s clear he is now the star among conservatives there. As an example, the New York Times, which endorsed Graham on Monday, highlighted a story about a Charleston woman who was apparently inspired to go run for office after hearing Graham give a speech on the Senate floor denouncing Donald Trump. Voters seem to want him to keep his cool, too. His job approval rating stands at a robust 66 percent. Graham, the former presidential hopeful who battled Trump to the point of what seemed like near-tirade, even once called him “an idiot.” But that’s old news now. There have been fewer than two dozen televised debates among Republican candidates in the first half of this cycle, and since Graham didn’t take part, he hasn’t been singled out for criticism. On the stump, he’s still good for a humorous line or a Republican “Gotcha!” moment — say when he referenced a story about the line, “I’m the king of useless details” on the House floor. But his main skills come in the very Q&A-heavy settings in which he really shines.
Per the Times:
By contrast, as the chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Graham has spent more time on foreign soil than any other Republican senator, visiting close to 40 countries in the last two years. He does not bring so much nuance or intellectual curiosity as he does a South Carolina buddy-like humor that he deploys nearly as often. This makes him a natural crowd-starter, and because people know Graham so well, they like getting to know him.
South Carolina Republican voters clearly support Graham and his blunt approach.
And he said, whenever he gets his moments with the voters, he’s not lacking in confidence or guile. At one Republican town hall this week, in which he had been pressed to answer why he criticized Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., he became insistent that he knew “better than to take anybody’s piss.” The audience shouted “Nope!” again and again. Mr. Graham flashed one of his signature gazes: “Nope!” He also insisted over and over that he “wasn’t talking” about Mr. Scott, anyway.
The “I didn’t talk” bit might work in Graham’s favor in Iowa, where he’s started running an ad featuring a woman telling about dating a man who “broke” her heart, but not in Trump’s home state.
In fact, Graham, who probably knows Trump best, would benefit from being in a head-to-head match up with the president, assuming Trump wins the GOP nomination. The two men are often pointed out, if not by name, by reporters on Twitter, particularly when either Graham appears to be challenging the president’s policies or retweeting praise of Trump.