For a Republican primary debate, last week wasn’t much of a show. Suffice to say it was far from the most interesting debate. Perhaps it represents the broader staleness of the Republican primaries, despite many claims that the race has never been so unpredictable and exciting. Either way, some rightly remain horrified as two zany outsiders sit atop the field of candidates.
Many concerned conservatives — and those hoping to have a shot at beating Hillary Clinton come November 2016 — are right to wonder how, if or when the Donald and Dr. Ben Carson will tank and drop out. GOP supporters and debate moderators feel powerless in the face of Trump and Carson’s logic-defying policies and support time and time again. Yet one possible solution to the outsider problem lies right in front of the Republican National Committee (RNC): elevating Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to the first tier debate. He clearly outmatches his tier two peers, offering a wealth of experience, a unique personality and a consistent message. In combination, these advantages could amount to added pressure on complacent candidates and a confrontation of the Trump-Carson hegemony.
Senator Graham is clearly too qualified to have his campaign wasted on repartees with Governors Bobby Jindal, George Pataki and former Senator Rick Santorum. The South Carolina firebrand has been identified by a vast majority of experts as a winner in each of the last three Republican primary debates. That said, from Trump to the experts, critics are fair in pointing to Graham’s flailing numbers. The South Carolina senator only managed to grab two percent of likely primary voters in his home state, according to a recent poll. Yet what Senator Graham lacks in national support he makes up for in experience and in his diversity of views. As chairman of multiple senate defense, terrorism and foreign policy-related subcommittees, Graham, it’s safe to say, has experience in foreign affairs. On the domestic side, Senator Graham has shown his moderate views in embracing and endorsing bipartisan regulation on immigration reform and climate change throughout his nearly 15-year tenure in the Senate. The sum of these experiences is added pressure on outsider candidates to provide more specific views and plans in any and all policy areas.
Arguably, Graham’s greatest strength is his fiery charisma. The man who said “we’re going to drink more” under his presidency has proven graceful in dealing with coarse mudslinging. When Donald Trump released Graham’s private cell phone number, the Senator calmly responded with a clever instructional video on cell phone demolition techniques. This knack for charm and confidence will serve the Republican establishment well in quelling Trump’s success.
Unlike many of his fellow candidates, since declaring his candidacy in June, Graham has remained consistent, clear and on message, especially with regard to foreign policy: America needs stronger, bolder leadership to tackle Islamic extremism via coordination with partners and troop deployments nearing 10,000. America must confront the threat of radical Islam before it reaches our shores yet again. Whether or not one agrees with the Graham campaign on this issue or any other, such a strong, straightforward theme forces less energetic and less focused candidates like Governor Jeb Bush to step up their game.
Guided by biased moderators, the last Republican debate was gladiatorial. The next debate should facilitate a sustained and intense “free market” of competing ideas. As in economic policy, low barriers to entry are a sacred Republican value. For the sake of party and country, it’s time the RNC and major networks shake up the race. CNN altered the rules for Carly Fiorina. The Wall Street Journal and Fox News should give Senator Graham the same opportunity.