South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination this morning, in his hometown of Central, S.C. Having served more than 20 years in the U.S. Congress, Graham’s main selling point is that he is best positioned to defend the country in a dangerous world.
And when Graham says “dangerous,” he means it.
Within the first five minutes of his speech, he warned the crowd that “the world is exploding in terror and violence.”
“I want to be president to protect our nation that we all love so much,” Graham said. “I want to be president to defeat the enemies that are trying to kill us.”
Telling Americans that they are under imminent threat of death has become something of a calling card for Graham in recent years.
“The world is literally about to blow up,” Graham said after the president’s State of the Union speech last year.
Criticizing the Obama administration’s efforts to strike a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, Graham said in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in February, “Obama’s about to unleash Hell on the Mideast. He’s about to create a nuclear arms race by wanting a deal with the Iranians so badly that he’s about to make the mistake of a lifetime.”
In Graham’s view, ISIS is not just a threat to the Middle East, but is an immediate menace to the United States – a “direct threat to our homeland,” as he put it on Fox News in August. “Mr. President, be honest with the threat we face. They are coming,” Graham said.
A month later, Graham was back on Fox, still talking about ISIS, and his warning was even more dramatic. “This is a turning point in the war on terror,” he said, growing visibly angry. “Our strategy will fail yet again. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.”
For an expert in foreign policy, Graham is given to fairly simplistic statements about how to deal with challenges abroad. Most of them involve putting people in boxes.
On the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, he said, the Obama administration’s failure is that, “Nothing we have done has put Putin in a box,” he said on Face the Nation earlier this year.
And the only thing more important that putting bad guys in a box seems to be not getting put in a box yourself.
That’s one of his main criticisms of the president’s Iran negotiations.
“The Israelis are in a box,” he said. “The Israelis are not [going to] allow the Ayatollahs to go nuclear, and the deal that we’re contemplating with Iran is North Korea in the making, and the Arabs and the Israelis are not [going to] allow the Ayatollahs in Iran to have a nuclear capability only contained by the U.N. — that’s what we tried to do in North Korea.”
In remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in March, he discussed the Iran nuclear deal and the prospects for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian people. “The last thing I want is to be put in a box where I have to take on the U.N.”
Graham was met by an adoring crowd in Central, and he has a built-in advantage in South Carolina, which had traditionally been one of the more important early primary states for the GOP. But Graham’s appeal outside his home state is a real question, as is his ability to get voters whose top concern isn’t being killed by terrorists in their beds, to put his name in the [ballot] box.
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