- South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is campaigning for Republicans on a 12-state tour at the request of President Donald Trump.
- Graham’s status has been elevated since he vigorously defended Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh his the tumultuous confirmation hearings.
- Campaigning against Democratic colleagues is a first for Graham, who has typically stayed on the sidelines during election cycles.
“He knows Lindsey Graham,” quipped a woman to her friend after meeting Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul during a campaign event last week for Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey in St. Mary’s, West Virginia.
Katie Arrington, a GOP candidate for a US House seat in South Carolina, called the South Carolina senator “the voice of the Republican Party” upon introducing him at her own rally on Sunday.
During the first two years of the Trump administration and increasingly over the past few months, Graham has become one of the most popular Republicans among the GOP base in the current political climate, shedding his reputation as a “RINO,” a term used by far-right conservatives to denote that a party member is a “Republican In Name Only.”
Graham has stayed close with President Donald Trump, despite the two having regular public fights in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign season, which culminated in Trump reading Graham’s personal cell phone number on live television.
Graham and Trump now play golf together on a regular basis. The president has in the past called Graham right after he appeared on television to tell him he “did great.” Now, Graham is embarking on a 12-state tour to boost Republican campaigns on behalf of the Republican National Committee and at Trump’s request.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called Graham “a key ally in confirming Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court” in announcing the multi-state swing to stump for Republicans.
Graham’s stature rose after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings
To call Graham a key ally would be an understatement. Graham dramatically altered the narrative and tone of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings by becoming the first Republican senator to drop the outside counsel brought in to probe Kavanaugh, then an embattled nominee whose confirmation hanged by a thread.
When Republicans convened for their conference meeting after the Kavanaugh hearing concluded, Graham received a standing ovation from his GOP colleagues. Multiple senators told Business Insider that Graham’s performance had fired the up and changed the overall tone.
And the praise echoed from the smallest circles in Graham’s home state all the way to other foes, like conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.
“Lindsey was the hero of the Republican Party yesterday and of conservatives everywhere,” Rick Tate, a South Carolina GOP chairman in Pickens County, told the Charleston Post and Courier.
“Conservatives will not forget Lindsey standing up for Kavanaugh yesterday,” Tate added. “It will be in the minds of conservatives as long as Lindsey is in public office. It will be one of the hallmarks of his career.”
Limbaugh suggested that Graham has changed his personality since the death of John McCain, his friend and fellow Republican senator.
“I will say that since McCain has passed away, Lindsey Graham seems more like the guy I knew back in the nineties,” Limbaugh said on October 9. “That’s all I’ll say.”
‘I’ve never campaigned against a colleague in my life. That’s about to change’
And Graham’s tour, during which he will serve as the GOP’s campaign pit bull, is a major break in tradition for him after 15 years in the Senate.
“I’ve never campaigned against a colleague in my life. That’s about to change,” Graham said on Fox News Sunday earlier this month. “I’m going to go throughout this country and let people in these purple states, red states, where Trump won know what I thought, know what I think about this process.”
Several of the states on Graham’s 12-state tour include red states where his Democratic colleagues in the Senate are facing tough re-election battles, such as Florida, Missouri, Indiana, Montana, and Ohio. Notably not on the list is West Virginia, home to Joe Manchin, the only Democratic senator to vote for Kavanaugh.
Manchin is dealing with his own race where other lawmakers, officials, and conservative personalities are swinging through to assist in unseating him, though limited polling in the state suggests he is maintaining a healthy lead. Still, Manchin said he does not like the idea of colleagues gunning for one another during campaign season.
“I’ve never campaigned against a Republican in the center, I’ve never given money to a Democrat that’s running against a Republican in the Senate for incumbents,” he told Business Insider. “I don’t think it should be done. I used to hear that’s the way it was done before. It’s an unwritten rule – you don’t do that.”