Republican presidential candidate U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham arrives onstage to formally announce his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in Central, South Carolina June 1, 2015.
Photo by Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters

Why Lindsey Graham’s departure matters

The massive Republican presidential field hasn’t seen many departures lately, but that changed this morning when the field shrunk from 14 members to 13. MSNBC reported:
Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is dropping out of the presidential race. “While we have run a campaign that has made a real difference, I have concluded this is not my time,” he said in a statement Monday.
“I am suspending my campaign but never my commitment to achieving security through strength for the American people,” he said.
The timing is not coincidental: in Graham’s home state of South Carolina, today is the last day in which presidential candidates can be removed from the first-in-the-South primary ballot.
Graham also released a two-minute YouTube video this morning to announce the end of his White House bid.
The senator’s departure was, for all intents and purposes, inevitable. He was out of step with much of his party on a variety of issues, leading to weak fundraising and anemic support in the polls. Graham failed to qualify, for example, for any of the prime-time Republican debates this year.
The Republican lawmaker did his best to position himself as the anti-Trump – two weeks ago, Graham argued, “You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell” – and he even had a confrontation in which Trump gave out Graham’s personal cell-phone number to the public, but his campaign nevertheless struggled for relevance.
When a candidate averaging 0.7% in national polling exits the stage, it’s tempting to think the impact will be non-existent, but in this case, Graham’s departure may be more important than widely assumed.
Keep in mind, Senate Republicans have, by and large, stayed on the sidelines in the GOP presidential race. Of the 54 Republican senators in the chamber, only 11 have made endorsements (one, John McCain, backed Graham, which actually brings the overall total down to 10 as of this morning).
The chatter on Capitol Hill has been that much of the conference has held back largely out of deference towards Graham, whom they’ve worked alongside for many years. The thinking has been simple: once Graham quits, senators can start intervening in earnest, without fear of hurting their friend’s feelings.
In other words, the GOP establishment, panicking over a Trump-Cruz top tier, will be eager to rally behind a standard bearer, and Graham’s suspension makes that task a little easier. It effectively unlocks a door many will be eager to go through.
Marco Rubio has picked up three endorsements from Senate Republicans this year. Expect that number to grow quite a bit over the next few weeks.