Lindsay Graham announced his candidacy for the Presidency in his hometown of Central, South Carolina on June 1, 2015. His young sister, Darline, introduced him and shared the background story of their parents who died when she was 11 and he was 20 in college. Their bond is especially tight because of the adversity they faced in the loss of their parents.
He opened his speech getting straight to the point of why he was there in his hometown that day.
“Many of you have known me for a long time. Some of you have known me since my family lived in the back of the bar in that building. But I’m pretty sure no one here, including me, ever expected to hear me say: ‘I’m Lindsey Graham, and I’m running for President of the United States.’”
The theme of his announcement was crystal clear – defend America.
“I want to be President to defeat the enemies trying to kill us, not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them.
Ronald Reagan’s policy of ‘peace through strength’ kept America safe during the Cold War. Remember those times? But I have come to conclude we will never enjoy peaceful co-existence with radical Islam because its followers intend to destroy our way of life.”
He continued listing the reasons that he was running for President. He wants to make government “work for you, not the other way around.” He wants government to keep its promises. He wants to help build a future greater than our amazing past.
In wanting to do these things, he made a point that evidenced his desire and willingness for real bi-partisanship. With a sense of resolve he promised, “I will work with anyone to do it.”
While willing to work with anyone, he immediately moved into pointed criticism of the Obama administration. He said that they “substituted wishful thinking for sound national security strategy.”
Graham said that headlines in the papers every day attested to the failures of the policies of Obama and Hillary Clinton. He pointedly said that “Barack Obama has made us less safe. Simply put, radical Islam is running wild.” He contrasted where our enemies are today and where they would be if he were to be elected President.
They have more safe havens, more money, more capability, and more weapons to strike our homeland than any time since 9/11. They are large. They are rich. They are entrenched. As President I will make them small, poor and on the run.
He recognized that many Americans have grown tired of fighting. He issued a clear warning, “the radical Islamists are not tired of fighting you.” Because of the threat Graham called for taking the fight to them by working with regional forces and going after their safe havens and bases of operations. The biggest threat he identified is the threat from Iran.
“The world is exploding in terror and violence but the biggest threat of all is the nuclear ambitions of the radical Islamists who control Iran. Ladies and gentlemen, there are no moderates in Iran running their government.
If the United States isn’t firm in our intention to deny them such weapons, Iran will trigger a nuclear arms race in the least stable region on earth, making it more likely that people who aspire to genocide will have the most effective means to commit it.”
Graham pointed out that Israel, our close ally, is now at risk because of Obama’s failed leadership. He noted that Israel and America share values, democracy, and an unbreakable friendship. “To our friends in Israel, I will never abandon you. I will always stand firm in supporting the one and only Jewish state. I too say – never again.”
He again stated his drive in running for President was because he had the experience and the judgment to “deny the most radical regimes the most dangerous weapons.”
Lest anyone think that Lindsey Graham simply wants to defeat radical Islam using the instruments of war, he said, “The most powerful weapon in our arsenal isn’t a gun. It’s an idea. The terrorists are selling a glorious death. We must sell a hopeful life.”
Graham did not limit the threat to America to radical Islam. He pointed to other threats from old adversaries. He noted Putin seizing Ukrainian territory. He spoke of China building man made islands in the middle of the ocean challenging free navigation of the seas.
“Our allies feel the absence of America’s leadership. Our adversaries are taking advantage. American weakness anywhere hurts us everywhere. Our enemies are emboldened and our friends are going it alone. Both reactions are detrimental to our national security interests.”
He put forth his qualifications for serving as President.
“The next President must be an informed and decisive Commander-in-Chief, ready immediately to deal with the threats I’ve just described. We’ve learned over the past six years that speeches alone won’t make us safe…. Superior power and resolve is the only way to be safe. I’m running for President of the United States because I am ready to be Commander-in-Chief on day one.”
He said that he is ready to defend the nation with sound strategy, strong military, stable alliances, and steady determination. He pointed out that he has been to the Middle East many times.
He emphasized that his experience as a reserve officer in the US Air Force and as a US Senator gives him more experience on national security than any other candidate. He threw in a jab at a potential opponent saying, “that includes you, Hillary. We’ll have a reset with Russia that sticks.”
He drew a distinction between the focus of politicians and the focus of the military.
“Politicians focus on elections. The military focuses on the mission. If given the privilege to serve as your President, I’ll focus on the mission – to defend America, protect our way of life, and leave the next generation a stronger, safer, better nation than we inherited.”
He made a strong commitment to support the members of the armed forces.
“I cannot promise as Commander-in-Chief that the dangers that they confront will be less, the risks they run, the sacrifices they make will be fewer or easier. But I can assure them they will have the leadership to defeat our enemies. I can promise them their sacrifices won’t be wasted. They won’t fight with their hands tied behind their backs. We will end this conflict on our terms. We will win.”
Graham also had a message for those who wanted to withdraw from the battle and isolate America. “Those who believe we can disengage from the world at large and stay safe by leading from behind, vote for someone else. I’m not your man.”
He then turned his attention toward domestic issues. He spoke of problems at home that have been kicked down the road. Social Security and Medicare are in serious jeopardy.
It was at this point in his speech that Lindsey Graham did something that few politicians are willing to do. He made the observation that fixing these programs will require “determined Presidential leadership.” It is not unusual for a candidate to say that leadership is needed. What is unusual is for a candidate to specify what that leadership could mean.
“I know from personal experience how important these programs are to the lives of millions of Americans. As Darline mentioned, we lost our parents when I was a young man and she was in middle school. We depended on Social Security benefits to survive. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve done better than I ever dreamed. If I and others like me have to take a little less and pay a little more to help those who need it the most, so be it. And, younger people, you may just have to work a little longer. As President, I’ll gladly do what it takes to save a program that once saved my family.”
I imagine that his consultants cringed in fear when he said that some may have to take a little bit less and that younger people may have to work a little longer.
He said that he was willing to work with both sides in the area of energy. “Now to those of you who yearn for a healthy and safe environment, I will join your cause. To those who seek energy independence, I will be your champion.”
He turned his attention back to the Middle East. “I am tired of sending hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas to buy oil from people who hate us. We must have energy independence. And I believe in the process, it is possible to produce a safe, clean environment, and create new well-paying jobs for Americans of all generations.”
He addressed the Republicans, the Democrats, and, perhaps the largest group, Americans who trust neither party. He has been a Senator who sought bi-partisan solution and is willing to work with leaders from both parties. He acknowledged the criticism that he has faced for his approach.
“To my fellow Republicans, I’ll be a champion for limited and effective government and a strong national defense. I’ll be a voice for social conservative values without apology or animosity. I love my party. I am committed to see it grow and prosper.
To my friends in the other party, on the big things we share a common faith. I’ll work with you to strengthen the country we both love. Our differences are real, and we’ll debate them. But you’re not my enemy. You’re my fellow countrymen.
To Americans who trust neither party, I will seek the political common ground our nation so desperately needs to find. That’s what I’ve done before. Don’t take my word for it. Examine my record. I’ve got the scars to prove it. I intend to be a President not of a single party, but of a nation. I want to do more than make big government smaller. I want to help make a great nation greater.”
He closed his speech acknowledging and thanking those in his family and community who shaped his life. He said that he is not one of those “self-made” people.
“I’m a man with many debts to my family, my friends, to you, to South Carolina, to the country. I’m running for President to repay those debts, and to fight as hard for you as you fought for me. In the end, ladies and gentlemen, that’s the only promise I can make and it’s the only pledge I will sign, the only one that matters. If you make me president, I’ll fight each day harder than I fought the day before to keep this country safe, prosperous and as good as the people who made it great. I humbly ask for your support and your vote. I will work every day to make you proud. God bless.
Lindsey Graham spent between 60 and 70% of his speech focused on national security. Even when speaking on domestic issues, he found a way to weave in a comment or statement about our enemies.
His campaign strategy centers on two states and momentum – South Carolina and New Hampshire. The New Hampshire primary is on February 9, 2016 and the South Carolina primary is 11 days later on February 20, 2016. Graham is in the hopes that his style of statesmanship will be better accepted in New Hampshire than some of the more combative conservative candidates.
If he can pull out New Hampshire, then he will have 10 days to push for the voters in his home state to give him back to back victories. He would then hope for the back to back victories to give him momentum in to the March 1 primaries on Super Tuesday.
Graham has an uphill battle. He will have a challenge even in his home state. Just because the voters of South Carolina have elected him to serve as their Senator does not mean that those votes automatically will go to him in a very crowded Republican Presidential Primary.
On the other hand, the crowded primary could help him in his home state. With the pie being sliced so many ways, he can get a small slice and still declare victory. It makes for a very interesting start to the 2016 primary season.
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