What Motivates Lindsey Graham to Run?

06/02/2015 04:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2016

Lindsey Graham (R-SC), made it official this week, announcing his intention to run for President. This was not much of a surprise since, in recent months, he was found in early primary states and giving many interviews, not as the foreign policy expert of the U.S. Senate (as he is typically positioned), but as a potential candidate for the White House.

He is among the least likely of serious candidates in the minds of many. He is one of the least conservative Republicans from one of the country's most conservative regions. He doesn't have children, and is not even married (nor has he ever been). As a result, a GOP political opponent has even insinuated that Graham was gay. The first gay president a Republican? Don't hold your breath, even if Graham is gay, he is unlikely to win his party's nomination, let alone the country's highest office. Rumor has it (at least among conservatives), Graham is not even considering a run in order to win, but to serve the role of protecting the interests of the GOP establishment and neoconservatism.

Recently I interviewed radio talk show host Tony Powers of Powers to the People show about the 2016 presidential candidate lineup. He was among the first I have heard who is suggesting that the Graham candidacy has nothing to do with him becoming president, but preventing others from reaching the Oval Office.

Powers told my audience, "I hear that Graham is in it only to undermine Rand Paul." "Really? How does that work?," I asked. He went on to explain that, because Graham is considered among the strongest in the foreign policy space, his job is to simply embarrass Rand Paul's so-called "isolationist" positions. His purpose is to take Paul to task and to make sure that the GOP's neoconservative positions on foreign policy remain the Republican standard.

But the theory does not end there. Others I have spoken to among the Republican rank and file argue that Graham's role is to simply make Jeb Bush (R-FL) look more conservative. Most remember that, in 2012, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney struggled to demonstrate that he was conservative enough to be the party's nominee for president. Intentional or not, former Governor of Utah Jon Huntsman helped make Romney appear more conservative. Huntsman consistently maintained positions clearly to the left of Romney, which certainly helped the eventual nominee appear "safer" to the party's rank and file.

Graham promises to do the same for Jeb Bush. In virtually every area, with the possible exception of foreign policy, Graham is to the left of Bush. Bush, who has been described as a "Republican answer" to the political style of Lyndon Baines Johnson -- with a take no hostage approach that the former President from Texas was famous for -- can use all the help he can get to build his conservative credentials.

Conspiracy or no conspiracy, is that not always the question? Most sensible political observers think that Graham, who has been in the Senate since 2003, is simply ready to "move up or move out." After well over a decade in that office, Graham has little to show for all of his efforts. There are others who say Graham has absolutely no intention of leaving the Senate, since his seat isn't even up until 2020. Instead, he is simply concerned with an isolationist United States, which is a policy that seems to resonate with many GOP candidates (and not just Rand Paul) who have grown tired of the costs and demands of this country being the world's police force.

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