October 21, 2008

The Sun Interviews Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

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The Sun: You’ve been one of Senator McCain’s staunchest supporters from the beginning, through thick and thin. A few weeks before Election Day, can you give us some perspective on everything that’s happened to this point?
Lindsey Graham: Well, we’ve had a campaign that’s had a lot of near-death experiences. Last August, July, we’d run out of money … everybody had written John off. And the campaign was tremendously crippled. And John went to Iraq in July to a re-enlistment ceremony of about 688 brave young men and women who decided to re-enlist for another term in Iraq, and that inspired him to keep on fighting. We came back, talked about not surrendering in Iraq. John led the effort to prevent the Congress from setting a date for withdrawal. I think that earned him a lot of respect and admiration among Republican primary voters.
… The economic problems of the last two weeks have really hurt us. John has separated himself from President Bush’s foreign policy in his early support of a troop surge in Iraq. And he’s got a lifetime of being independent. But when the economy becomes the dominant issue, we sort of get associated with Bush policies that people are tired of.
So tonight in this debate and for the next 20 days, we’ve got to show people the difference between us and Senator Obama. Quite frankly, Senator Obama has some very left economic policies — spending and tax policies — and he is not a mainstream political figure. You know, the associations that people are talking about now — ACORN, MoveOn.org, Bill Ayers … all these have one thing in common: They’re tied to the hard left in this country. And Senator Obama will never be a check on a Democratic Congress that people are very upset with.
Sun: You mentioned ACORN, you mentioned Bill Ayers. I noticed that you left out Jeremiah Wright. Are we going to be hearing about him at all from the campaign in the coming days?
Graham: Well, I think everybody has their own view about the church. But Bill Ayers helped him launch his political career — it started in his living room — and he’s a very radical person. And they were on a board together. And the education foundation board that Obama and Ayers were members of gave $232,000 to ACORN. So, I think those issues resonate more with people. I’m not talking about where he went to church; I’m talking about how he got his political start and what organizations support him. And what organizations does he support? You know, the ACORN organization is under investigation in every battleground state for massive voter fraud. And they have a very hardcore left agenda.
Sun: I hear Mickey Mouse is registered to vote in Ohio?
Graham: Mickey Mouse, the starting lineup of the L.A. Rams, I mean, it’s just ridiculous, and that’s not an organization I believe most Americans would want a presidential candidate to be deeply associated with over a long period of time.
Sun: Talk about the mood inside the campaign right now.
Graham: Well, this is a campaign that has lived off the fat of the land. This is a campaign that understands the strengths of the candidate and doesn’t panic. John is steady under fire. He’s resolved, and I think he does his best when the times are most difficult. His fiscal conservatism — you know, his hawkish spending ways — is really his ace in the hole. And Senator Obama is an eloquent speaker, but tonight and for the next 20 days we have to show that the rhetoric and the record don’t match. So confidence in the candidate and confidence in our abilities remain strong.
Sun: It appears that some in the media are beginning to write Senator McCain off …
Graham: Been there, done that [Chuckles].
Sun: Paint for us a picture of the campaign in summer 2007, when it appeared your candidate didn’t have a chance.
Graham: Well, we got more resolved instead of discouraged. You know, resolution in the face of adversity is leadership. But it was clear at the time that our campaign had collapsed. And we had to get it back on its feet with a message that mattered and resonated, and have discipline we didn’t have before. That’s why I’m very confident at the end of the day that the doubts people have about Senator Obama — Who is he? Where is he coming from? What part of the political spectrum does he represent? What are his real policies? — are going to get stronger.
Sun: How do you think Senator McCain was able to come back to win his party’s nomination?
Graham: Just focusing on the consequences of losing in Iraq and saying, “I know everybody wants out, this war has been poorly managed, but there’s a better way,” and showing leadership in the Congress, stopping a stampede to the exit signs when it came to Iraq by politicians, and that just made people stand up and say, “Wow, what a leader.”
Sun: Was there ever a point at which you lost hope and said to yourself, “Well, it was a good run …”
Graham: Well, in this regard … When our campaign crashed, I was worried about whether we could get the money. [Campaign manager] Rick Davis convinced me that we did, [senior adviser] Charlie Black showed me how Reagan had a similar situation. There was a time when I was wondering, “Can we reconstruct this campaign and get the resources to be competitive?” That’s the only time I was concerned. I looked down the list, and there was nobody that we couldn’t beat. John was the most reliable, electable conservative. Rudy, for example, was a great guy, but probably not a fit for a Republican primary.
Sun: Could you name some turning points in that campaign?
Graham: Yeah, when we went to the 4th of July re-enlistment ceremony. The guy who went over to Iraq had just seen his campaign crumble and was feeling kind of bad. The guy who came back after witnessing the re-enlistment ceremony and the naturalization ceremony — people in combat who chose to become American citizens and re-enlist in the military — he was more resolved and dedicated to winning than at any time in the primary. That was a turning point.
Sun: Talk a little about the primary in South Carolina since that is your home turf.
Graham: Well, without New Hampshire, there was no campaign. Without South Carolina, there was no chance. New Hampshire made John viable again to be the nominee. He then lost Michigan. South Carolina made him the nominee.
Sun: You think it was over after South Carolina?
Graham: Yeah, because if you couldn’t beat John in South Carolina, where are you going to beat him if you’re Huckabee?
Sun: Well, Huckabee’s campaign clearly ended in South Carolina, but couldn’t Romney have beaten him in Florida after beating him in Michigan?
Graham: Yeah, he could’ve come back, but when Romney finished fourth in South Carolina and John won … I mean, no one has lost the nomination in decades after winning New Hampshire and South Carolina. Once you put those two together, you’re very hard to beat. So when John won in a red state, the scene of the crime in 2000, social and economic conservatives and moderates came together to give John a win over a very talented field … Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, some real viable people. You know, Rudy did not perform well in South Carolina.
Sun: You just called South Carolina “the scene of the crime in 2000.” Could you elaborate?
Graham: Well, that’s where the conventional wisdom has it that McCain got derailed [after winning New Hampshire]. And that’s true. I mean, people say, “Bush was a good candidate, a better candidate in many ways than John was in 2000,” but a lot of nasty things happened in South Carolina — the outside groups coming in and saying nasty things about his child and Cindy and just distorting and lying about his record.