In 2003, I served as the SCGOP Deputy Political Director. A year earlier, as an intern and staff member, I helped elect a slate of Republican candidates. We ran the table that year, ousting Democratic Governor Jim Hodges. Only two Democrats won statewide. And Lindsey Graham succeeded Strom Thurmond.
Graham’s success left me beaming. He’d been my Congressman since I was a high school freshman at Westside High School in Anderson County, South Carolina. He’d served in the Air Force and was a lawyer, career paths I would later follow. And he’d put on a stellar performance to a national audience during the Clinton impeachment. I believed Graham was good for South Carolina.
At the SCGOP, I got to know Graham more personally as we crossed paths on the campaign trail and at the party’s Columbia headquarters. He was smart, kind, and approachable. He learned our names and smiled big for photographs even before smartphones.
I graduated USC in 2003 and faced a decision. I had an eye towards military service after September 11, 2001 and wanted to attend law school. I sought Graham’s advice. He offered to recommend me to the Air Force, and if I didn’t get in, he would hire me as an aide. For that vote of confidence, I will always be thankful.
By the August 2004 Republican National Convention, I was an Air Force officer in Florida. Invited to attend the convention as an SCGOP guest, I took leave and drove 1,200 miles to New York City. At Madison Square Garden, I watched with pride as Graham introduced John McCain: “John McCain is one of the most respected and admired men in this country, a person who embodies the American spirit, which is always searching for a cause greater than ourselves,” Graham said. True.
As a new senator, Graham collaborated with centrists like McCain and Joe Lieberman on issues ranging from immigration reform to restricting the torture of detainees to confirming judges. Graham bucked GOP leaders who wanted to change the Senate Rules (the “nuclear option”). He broke with his party and supported the confirmation of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. On this record, he understandably coasted to reelection in 2008 and 2014.
In 2020, though, Graham can no longer lead South Carolina. Here’s why:
The Lindsey Graham of 2020 is not the Senator we elected in 2002 or even 2014. The Senator who once insisted on confirming judges with bipartisan support invoked the “nuclear option” in 2017. He held a committee vote on a Supreme Court nominee with no Democratic senators present, against Senate Rules. The Senator who promised in 2018 — “hold the tape!” — that he would not confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the final year of a Republican president’s first term shamelessly did just that. The man who once understood that Americans are “always searching for a cause greater than ourselves” now sees no cause greater than party and power.
Graham laments that out-of-state “liberal donors” are working to defeat him. “They hate my guts.” The truth is more mundane. South Carolina is the home of my heart, and the home of my family for generations. My children love it, too; to them, it’s Grandma’s home, “where Dad grew up.” I still believe Graham is a decent man. I don’t hate his guts. But he’s lost his way. That is unfortunate.
Thankfully, Jaime Harrison can be the senator South Carolina needs and deserves.
Harrison is as solid a candidate as you will find anywhere in the country. Like most South Carolinians, his story is grounded in family and faith. Like far too many South Carolinians, he grew up poor and experienced the realities of an economy that favors the rich, leaving everyone else to bootstrap it. Well, Harrison did bootstrap it — all the way to Yale University, Georgetown Law, and a successful career in and out of politics. He’s earned his reputation as a leader and a hard worker. He’s shown that, unlike Graham, he will put the interests of South Carolina first.