Sen. Lindsey Graham's debate with Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison didn't go well at all for the Republican, as Slate's Jim Newell explains:
Towards the end of Saturday night’s first Senate debate between South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and his Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison, the candidates were asked on what issues they would dissent with their parties. Graham, who’d been sticking for most of the hour to a controlled strategy of reciting warnings against what Democrats would do with power, seemed to loosen up.
“How long do you have?” Graham said. “So, Lindsey ‘Grahamnesty’ is my name on talk radio.” He spoke about how he’d worked for “over a decade to get a comprehensive immigration solution.” He’d worked on climate change, and when he voted for Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, he “got the crap beat out of me here at home by Republicans.
“When it’s talking about working with the other side, it’s not just talk with me,” he said. “And I’ve got the political scars to prove it.”
It was less self-flattery than reminiscence. Graham was waxing nostalgic about a once-prominent version of himself that hasn’t been seen in recent years. Following the 2016 election, Graham rebuilt himself from a Trump skeptic to a vocal and loyal ally of the president, and those moments of working across the aisle at significant personal risk stopped coming. He’s now a partisan warrior who broke an airtight vow against confirming a Supreme Court nominee in the last year of President Donald Trump’s first term.
Harrison had said in his opening statement that Graham would likely “scare you to vote for him.” The once freewheeling senator, indeed, had straitjacketed himself into that strategy, drawing from a grab bag of fears about the left at each opportunity.
In Graham’s own opening statement, he observed that “this is a big-choice election between me and Mr. Harrison: capitalism versus socialism, conservative judges versus liberal judges, law and order versus chaos.” This apocalyptic vision was everywhere. Responding to a question about whether teachers and students should be asked to return to an in-person, five-day school week without rapid COVID-19 testing available, Graham ended with a warning about how Democrats would pass “Medicare for All” and stack the Supreme Court. After fleshing out his position on enhanced unemployment benefits, Graham warned, again, that Democrats would pack the Supreme Court and eliminate the Electoral College. Graham said the worst thing that could happen to Myrtle Beach’s economy is a Democratic administration and Congress that would tax and regulate it.
When Harrison hammered Graham on his reversal over filling a Supreme Court seat in the final year of Trump’s term, Graham’s strategy required him to just take it.
“Senator, how good is your word when you made a promise to the American people—even more, you made a promise to the folks in South Carolina—that you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing right now?” Harrison said. “And that’s the problem that I have, the greatest heresy that you could do as a public servant is to betray the trust of the people that you took an oath to serve.
“Just be a man about it,” he said, “and stand up and say, ‘You know what? I changed my mind. I’m going to do something else.’ But don’t go back and blame it on somebody else for a flip-flop that you’re making yourself.”
I expect we'll see at least a few more polls in SC for the Senate race, and I also expect they are not going to be good numbers for Graham. We'll see in the weeks ahead, but in case Cal Cunningham crashes and burns next door in NC, we'll need Harrison's win here in SC to help take the Senate back.