By Alan Rappeport – – – –
Senator Lindsey Graham’s presidential bid started on a hot June day in his hometown, Central, S.C., but fizzled before the first day of winter, as Republican voters were seemingly swayed more by outsider candidates vowing to shake up Washington than a veteran foreign policy hawk known for working well with Democrats. Mr. Graham will resume waging his war against terrorists — armed with a quick wit and a sharp tongue — from the Senate floor, not from the White House.
The beginning: Mr. Graham started his campaign with this warning: “The radical Islamists are not tired of fighting you.” Such doomsday pronouncements were a hallmark of his bid, which was premised on him having the most foreign policy experience and the knowledge needed to tackle the threat of Islamic terrorism. He mixed fear-mongering with humor and shared stories of his humble beginnings as he kicked off his campaign. But it was clear he was starting from behind. “I think that no one here in South Carolina has any illusions that Lindsey Graham is on a fast track or even near the front part of the pack in that crowded group,” Robert Wislinski, a political strategist in South Carolina, said that day.
The Trump factor: One of the first Republicans to engage directly with Donald J. Trump, Mr. Graham also absorbed one of his more devastating counterpunches. At an event in South Carolina, Mr. Trump mocked the senator for once asking him to help him get more appearances on Fox News. Adding injury to insult, he then shared Mr. Graham’s cellphone number with the world. The phone rang so much that Mr. Graham needed to take some extreme measures to make it stop.
The zingers: Struggling to stand out in a crowded field, Mr. Graham displayed his sense of humor to try to gain attention. During a September debate, he suggested that more alcohol might be the key to bringing bipartisanship back to Washington. “That’s the first thing I’m going to do as president — we’re going to drink more,” he said.
The polls: Mr. Graham’s poll numbers were so low by November that he was barred even from the so-called undercard debate stage with the other lower-polling candidates, and he was relegated to using Sidewire, a social media platform, to offer the responses that he would have given to questions.
The last stand: Mr. Graham spent his final month on the campaign trail camping out in New Hampshire, where he canvassed the state with his longtime friend Senator John McCain. In an advertisement for Mr. Graham, Mr. McCain offered some “straight talk” and asked voters to give Mr. Graham another look.
The end: It was clear in the Dec. 15 Republican debate that Mr. Graham’s frustration was bubbling over. He forced himself to say that he would back Mr. Trump as the nominee, then joked that he might not make it to the polls at all. After a town hall in New Hampshire over the weekend, Mr. Graham somewhat heretically said that he could imagine working with Hillary Clinton if she won the presidency and promised to take a tougher stance fighting the Islamic State. On Monday, expressing the belief that his campaign had made a real difference, he announced, “I have concluded this is not my time.”