Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Lindsey Graham can win in '16 ... depending on what you mean by 'win'

I know this news may shock you, but a lot of people who run for president of the United States never have an actual shot at winning. On rare occasions, they even have the humility to realize it.

Sometimes they run to make themselves more famous, and thus more marketable. Others, though, do it because they think they have something important that needs to be said. Sen. Lindsey Graham may fall into that second category.

Graham says that there's a "98.6 percent chance" that he will run for president, even though he has to know that there's a 99.6 percent chance that he would lose. However, he seems genuinely motivated by the opportunity to say some things that need saying, at least in his mind.

On foreign policy, he wants to push the country and his party even further to the right, having seldom if ever encountered a situation that couldn't be improved by bombing or invading another country. Running as a Republican, that's not exactly a message that will be unwelcome, or that needs another person to say it.

But on immigration?

"If I were the president of the United States, I would veto any bill that did not have a pathway to citizenship,” Graham said.

“You would have a long, hard path to citizenship... but I want to create that path because I don’t like the idea of millions of people living in America for the rest of their lives being the hired help,” he added. “That’s not who we are.”

That's exactly right. Without a path to citizenship, we consign 11 million people to perpetual second-class citizenship, eligible to do the hard, dirty jobs that the rest of us don't want to do while never having the chance to get a college degree, vote or become full-fledged members of society. As Graham puts it, "that's not who we are."

And if the Republicans don't change their party line on that issue, Graham says, they commit political suicide. "The only way we lose (in 2016) is if we beat ourselves," Graham says, "and we're getting creamed with non-white voters." Given demographic trends, the situation will  get worse with each additional presidential cycle.

That is not going to be a popular position in GOP presidential debates, to say the least. The modern Republican Party is built on a foundation of rigid conformity to the party line, and it does not tolerate apostasy very well. Just ask Marco Rubio, who has had to beat a hasty retreat on immigration in order to return to the good graces of the party base.

But somebody in the party has to push back. Somebody in the party has to say the things that need to be said and more importantly that need to be heard, and that person is almost always somebody like Graham, who doesn't stand a real chance of winning and thus risks little by offering candor. (Bernie Sanders is playing a similar role for the Democrats this cycle.)

Graham would not make a good president. But that doesn't mean that he can't do his party and his country a great service by playing a very different but necessary role as speaker of inconvenient truths.


Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.