Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was one of the few establishment Republicans out there to suggest — even slightly — that the new tea party emperors of the GOP might have no clothes. But now, after the tea party wave washed what was left of Republican moderation to the political fringe, Graham is changing his tune. Those tea partiers he was skeptical of just a few months ago? Turns out they rule.
“It will die out,” he told the New York Times.
Why? “The problem with the Tea Party, I think it’s just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country,” Graham said.
What a difference a string of tea party-fueled Republican primary upsets can make, it seems.Here’s what Graham said about the tea party on Meet The Press yesterday:
“I hope the tea party will come to Washington and change the whole dynamic that led to this fiscal mess we’re in, starting with spending in the 2011 year, but also in reforming entitlements.”
Graham then proceeded to endorse the tea party’s “coherent vision” for governing the country with a no compromise, shut-it-down-if-we-have-to style. For example, Graham drew a very tea partyesque line in the sand on raising the debt ceiling, something the tea party praiser-in-chief on the House side, incoming Speaker John Boehner, has said must be done in an “adult” way.
“I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long-term debt obligations, starting with Social Security, a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means tests for benefits,” Graham told MTP‘s David Gregory. “On the spending side, I’m not going to vote for debt ceiling increase unless we go back to 2008 spending levels, cutting discretionary spending.”
(On the other hand, Graham said, “You don’t need to shut the government down to accomplish those goals,” when asked if the GOP should try in 2011 what many saw as a political failure in 1995.)
Graham acknowledged he was taking a tea party tack, even claiming to side with incoming tea party stars like Senators-elect Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) against establishment Republican wariness to jump on political third rails like Social Security.
“I think Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, and other candidates who are new to the Congress have said during the campaign, ‘Everything’s on the table when it comes to making America fiscally sound.’ Let’s see if we can find bipartisan reforms in Social Security before we raise the debt limit,” Graham said.
The reforms Graham spoke of include eliminating some Medicare benefits for wealthy Americans under the age of 55 and “adjusting” the retirement age. That’s not exactly new — even in the mavericky July New York Times article, Graham was cast as focused on “saving Social Security from financial collapse by reforming its benefit structure.”
But gone is Graham’s former view that the tea party was a visionless behemoth lumbering its way toward obscurity. This was back when Graham was in a pitched battle with the ultra-conservatives in his own state, some of whom decided the best way to take him down a peg was to say he’s gay. Graham denied it, telling the Times, “I know it’s really gonna upset a lot of gay men — I’m sure hundreds of ’em are gonna be jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge — but I ain’t available. I ain’t gay. Sorry.”
That battle appears to be over and Graham seems to be suggesting there’s a tea party vision after all.
Watch Graham talk (and praise) tea on Meet The Press: