South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham dropped out of the GOP presidential race this week, surprising no one. Graham struggled to make even the slightest showing in the polls, never able to break out of the “kiddie” debates and make a play for the big stage. In a Republican field as crowded as this one, though, he’s not the first good candidate to fall by the wayside and he certainly won’t be the last.
Graham was the voice of war, long before a fresh series of terrorist attacks hit Paris and San Bernardino. Upon announcing his departure, he predicted that the rest of the Republican Party would come around to his way of thinking on the Islamic State.
“I think the nominee of our party is going to adopt my plan when it comes time to articulate how to destroy ISIL,” he said. “We’ve fallen short here, but the fight continues. To those who are doing the fighting, I want to be your voice.”
In a subsequent interview with CNN, Graham said that his wing of the Republican Party was in trouble. “What’s happened here is sort of my lane of the party has collapsed,” Graham said. “This is an election for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. This is no longer about 2016. This is about who are we as a party, where do we want to go, and where do we take the country.”
Graham has not made a secret over how he views the current frontrunner. After Donald Trump announced his proposal to halt Muslim immigration, Graham told Newsmax TV that the real estate mogul was “a complete idiot.”
In terms of voters, Graham leaves little on the table for the rest of the candidates to fight over. Even so, his departure could change the race more significantly than it might seem. The party’s establishment has helped him tremendously. The leaders and donors who were in Graham’s corner will likely move on to another candidate now, leading inexorably to a moment – which surely can’t be far off now – where the establishment coalesces around a single candidate.
When that happens, this race will really begin. Voters will be presented with their final choice – Trump…or someone else. Right now, it’s looking more and more like the “someone else” will be either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, but these things have a way of changing rapidly. And you can’t forget about Dr. Ben Carson; he’s not on fire the way he was a couple of months ago, but he’s still very much at the top of the polls. Of course, the Republican establishment may be no more willing to support him than they are Trump.