When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) walked away from the presidential race yesterday, his departure was notable for a variety of reasons. The Republican senator was, for example, the only GOP candidate in the field who believes climate scientists are correct. He was also the Republican who still supports the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform package he helped write.
But Graham also stood out as a 2016 candidate because he’s a military veteran. With the South Carolinian out of the race, that leaves former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) – a candidate doing so poorly many forget he’s a candidate – as the only remaining veteran in the race, from either party. (It’s a detail Gilmore was understandably eager to emphasize in an official statement yesterday.)
Roll Call highlighted the point overnight.
In the era of an all-volunteer military when only about 1 percent of the U.S. adult population serves in the armed forces, Graham removes one of the few candidates in the race who can relate to the shared experience of military service. […]This comes after the 2012 election, when neither the President Barack Obama nor former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had a record of military service. Romney received a draft deferment to serve as a Mormon missionary during Vietnam and Obama wasn’t old enough to serve.
Barring an unexpected surge in support for Team Gilmore, we’ll likely see another veteran-free general election next year, too.
Note, there were other veterans in the 2016 race – Jim Webb and Rick Perry – but both struggled badly.
In terms of the broader context from recent history, it’s also worth pausing to note that, while military service was a norm for many presidents, in the modern era, the presidential candidate with the most military service has routinely lost on Election Day.
That was true in 2008, when President Obama defeated John McCain, but it was also true four years earlier when then-President Bush beat John Kerry. In fact, the same thing happened in 1980, 1992, 1996, and 2000.