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Lindsay Graham from a close race after embracing Trump

“If we nominate Trump, we will be destroyed … and we will deserve it.” -Sen. Lindsay Graham, May 3, 2016.

“I am overwhelmed. LindseyGraham.com. Help me. They kill me for money. Help me. “-Sen. Lindsay Graham on Fox News, September 24, 2020

WASHINGTON – Four months ago, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham easily won her Republican championship and one of the great political transformations of modern times seemed ideal. Today he is fighting for his career.

No one embodied the GOP change, just like Graham. He used to be a passionate critic of Trump, whose weakness was on the right; he was seen as too inclined to work with Democrats. For a time, his 17-year-old was seen as vulnerable to a far-right tea party – a major challenge.

Then Donald Trump became president, and Lindsay Graham would never be the same.

Graham traded his image as a pragmatic dealer to become a fiery and loyal MAGA soldier. Work. While Republicans against Trump were ousted from Congress by primaries or retirement, Graham excelled. He was regularly seen playing golf with Trump. He helped Trump-nominated Brett Cavanaugh on the Supreme Court despite fierce opposition. He was elevated to the powerful role of chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In June, he won his championship without a serious challenge.

But now Graham is facing the possibility of everything collapsing. He is battling the same phenomenon that has hurt many Republicans this election year: After four years of embracing Trump, the party could be withdrawn from him. Republicans have long agreed not to win the house. Of the 23 current GOP senators elected for re-election in 2020, 12 are at risk of loss. Contrary to Trump’s push, many, like Graham, vote lower than Trump. That shouldn’t have mattered in solid red Carolina, where Republicans have been in Graham’s place for more than 50 years.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

President Trump shakes hands with Graham during a White House confirmation hearing on November 6, 2019.

“I have long believed that the Republican Party embracing Trump harms the Republican Party but does not hurt Donald Trump,” said Terry Sullivan, a Republican political consultant with Firehouse Strategies who led Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Graham’s opponent, Jaime Harrison, raised $ 57 million between July and September, more than any Senate candidate running in history. Polls show Harrison is at a staggering distance, making him one of the first close races in the Senate since 2004.

For two weeks in September, Graham went to Fox News at least five times to ask viewers to donate to his campaign. These were surreal things. “They are killing me financially. This money is because they hate my gut, “he said during an appearance at Fox and friends. His appeals have become so frequent that he was recently cut off.

South Carolina will almost certainly vote for Trump as president, but that doesn’t seem to matter as much in 2020 as it did in 2016. Four years ago, Republican Senate candidates in key states like Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Iowa all surpassed Trump. . But this year the opposite is happening – Republicans in the Senate across the country are constantly conducting a poll under the president.

Logan Cyrus / Getty Images

Jaime Harrison, Democratic candidate for the Senate, October 17.

Can Graham lose what has long been a safe red spot? Many strategists are skeptical. Sullivan led Republican Jim Demint’s 2004 campaign for the South Carolina Senate, the state’s last race. Polls shortly before the election showed he was tied to Democratic candidate Ines Tenenbaum. In the end, he won by nearly 10 points.

“What will happen is that Republican voters will be annoyed by who the candidate is, but eventually they will deviate,” Sullivan said. “Republican numbers are depressed, but in fact these people do not end up voting for Democrats. They show up and come home. ”

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the circumstances Graham will lose must include a replacement card: a third-party candidate.

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Unfortunately for Graham, he happens to have a far-right candidate on the ballot running a lavishly funded Democrat-led campaign. Bill Bledsoe, the Constitutional Party’s candidate, is not campaigning, and he has condemned the campaign in support. But his name is on the ballot. In South Carolina, Bledsoe has been featured in television commercials and mailings funded by Democratic PAC and anti-Trump groups such as the Lincoln Project to attract Graham’s votes. This Democratic Party of South Carolina website, which is believed to be attacking the candidate for being “100% pro-Trump, pro-gun, anti-abortion,” could easily be confused with Bledsoe’s own campaign website.

Amanda Loveday, a former executive director of the Democratic Party of South Carolina, estimates that as much as $ 15 million is being spent to promote Bledsoe’s involuntary candidacy. “It’s a gimmick from the Republican Game Book, so I’m proud of the Democrats that they finally did it,” she said.

Loveday said the election was the “perfect storm” of circumstances that could lead to Graham’s loss. She predicts that if Bledsoe can get more than 3% of the vote – he took about 2% when he ran for the Senate in 2016 – then Harrison has a chance. Loveday said Harrison would also need to attract 30 percent of white voters and black voters to make up at least 30 percent of the total. That could allow Harrison to win multiple victories, even though he did not get a majority of the vote, she said.

Loveday, who worked with Harrison in the state party, said many Democrats had voted for Graham in the past, but his hug with Trump means it won’t happen this time. And while she didn’t expect Republicans to vote for Harrison, she said many die-hard Trump fans see Graham’s support for the president as fake and inauthentic; she believes they will not appear to him.

“It’s the opposite of what people loved in Lindsay. This is the problem. It’s the epitome of what Lindsay hasn’t been for so many years, “she said. “He really made a bed with that.”

During the 2016 Republican primary, Graham described the then-candidate Trump as “dangerous,” “absurd,” “stupid,” and a “cook.” While campaigning in South Carolina in 2015, Trump once called him an “idiot” and then went on to give Graham’s cell phone number. The two made peace before the election; since then, Graham has been a staunch ally to the point of tweeting how badly Trump hits him in golf.

@realDonaldTrump How bad did you beat me? In the presidential race I did better than today on the golf course! Very funny. Great host.

By all accounts, Harrison has run an impressive campaign. His commercials do not mention Trump as much as Graham is attacked for his clear reversal over the past four years, portraying him as a man who has lost his way and is not the politician he was before. A Harrison campaign spokesman told BuzzFeed News that they saw the race as a move.

Graham’s campaign politely declined an interview request, citing a timeout and not answering email questions.

Republican strategists also point to Graham’s transformation into Trump as a possible weakness, as many of the president’s supporters see him as insincere and opportunistic. Joel Sawyer, a former Republican executive in South Carolina, called Harrison’s campaign “perhaps the best campaign [he’s] once seen fleeing to South Carolina, quite honestly. “But he still doubts that’s enough.

Sawyer said Harrison’s victory could only be due to a very incredible combination of him, who is better than Obama, a large number of Trump-voting Republicans who chose not to vote in the Senate race, and Bledsoe, who attracted significant support as a third country candidate – at least 5%. “I think Jaime has a path, but it’s extremely narrow and will require a few things to happen that have never happened before,” he said.

If Graham stays, he could return to Congress with far fewer Republicans. Countries like Georgia and North Carolina, which were once solid red, are rapidly turning purple.

If there’s a mirror version of Lindsay Graham, it could be former South Carolina representative Mark Sanford. As Graham hugged Trump, Sanford continued to criticize him. As Graham became a trusted adviser to the president and a friend of golf, Sanford was the subject of angry tweets from Trump. And while Graham’s career has reached new heights in the last four years, highlighted by the prosecution’s leadership as chairman of the Judicial Commission on two successful Supreme Court nominations, Sanford’s has ended.

Trump has approved Sanford’s main contender for the 2018 MAGA brand, Katie Arrington. Despite his profile as a longtime member of Congress and former governor, Sanford lost his main position. (Arrington will continue to lose the general election to Joe Cunningham, the first Democrat to win the 1st Congressional District of South Carolina in 40 years.)

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Sanford declined to speak publicly about Graham’s decisions, except to say he was a clairvoyant when Graham predicted in 2016 that electing Trump as their presidential candidate would lead to the destruction of the election.

“Everyone has to do their own thing, based on their beliefs and value system,” Sanford said.

Sanford said he could not see Trump or Graham lose in South Carolina. “All the money in the world doesn’t change the demographics,” he said. However, he believes that Trump’s embrace of his party will not only be “catastrophic” in this election, but risks alienating a whole generation of young people.

Trump’s internal party critics are almost out of Congress. People like former MP Charlie Dent and former senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake are retiring. Representative Justin Amash left the party and sat like a libertarian. Sanford said that after Trump left, he no longer knew what it would mean to be a Republican, and that people who remain in Congress if the president loses will have a period in the desert in which they will have to do a little soul-searching.

“I think we are moving towards our own political disappearance, although this has led to a lot of self-preservation of individual candidates in the process,” Sanford said. He noted that it did not go well for the Republicans, who refused to take the path of Lindsay Graham and are enthusiastically behind Trump. “But,” he added, “I sleep very comfortably at night.”

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