CHARLESTON, South Carolina—Talk about Southern hospitality.
Famed Democratic strategist Pat Caddell swept into South Carolina on Monday night, blistered Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, and then insulted the people who put him in office.
And he was rewarded for his bravado with a round of hearty applause and laughter.
“Lindsey Graham is the effective leader of the surrender caucus of the Republican Party,” Caddell proclaimed during a fiery speech before the Charleston Meeting, a monthly gathering of conservative activists hosted at the swanky Harbour Club in downtown Charleston.
“And I don’t know how he works with the public in South Carolina, but I saw all of the people who’ve endorsed him for reelection. Frankly, he’s as close to a Democrat as you can get in South Carolina,” he said, evoking a smattering of chuckles from the audience.
But Caddell wasn’t chuckling—or even smiling, for that matter. The former adviser to President Jimmy Carter, now a Fox News analyst, seemed determined to go further than just lob barbs at another “feckless” politician; his tirade was aimed at the voters complicit in his reelection.
“You’re not going to like it, but you people are responsible for it, and you get the country you deserve because you allow these people to take you for a ride,” Caddell blasted.
Dubbing Graham—who faces reelection for a third term next year—a wimp may seem ironic at a time he’s leading the charge for military intervention in Syria. But Caddell’s “surrender” remark referred to the senator’s unwillingness to challenge President Obama on his appointments.
Why didn’t Graham put the brakes on a “corrupt and radical” nominee for Labor secretary or protest liberal National Labor Relations Board picks? How did Susan Rice and Samantha Power get a pass after their culpability in Benghazi, an obsession of Graham’s?
“No, instead, Lindsey Graham and the surrender caucus said, ‘You can have Mr. Perez,’” charged Caddell. “When John McCain and Lindsey Graham endorse Susan Rice to be national-security adviser and Samantha Power, why have an opposition? You don’t have one. They just run rings.”
A Graham spokesperson declined to comment on this charge and the litany of others.
Caddell also sought to lump Graham in with a limp GOP leadership that he described as too timid to hold thorough hearings on Benghazi, where four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, were killed in an attack one year ago Wednesday.
At some points Caddell got himself so worked up, he appeared to lose his train of thought midway through a sentence.
“He’s said to me I’m his favorite Democrat, and I appreciate that, and I like Lindsey personally. But first of all the reason Benghazi is not an issue in part is because he and McCain, they have two groups they lead, let’s go to war everywhere all the time and ... he’s out talking about nuclear attacks ...” Caddell said before changing directions. “He went to Cairo with John McCain—the day the Muslim Brotherhood was burning churches—he said not a word about that. What he said is ‘let the Muslim Brotherhood out,’ he and John McCain. And the Republicans of South Carolina seem to like that sort of stuff.”
As Caddell finished, he seemed stunned that hands didn’t immediately fly up in the audience.
“No questions?” asked the moderator.
To which Caddell groused, “This is great because I just insulted all of you. This is why you lose.”
The next speaker was former congressman and 2008 Libertarian nominee for president Bob Barr, a dour and charisma-lacking pol ostensibly inspired enough by Caddell’s brazen performance to land his own punch on the home-state senator.
“Pat [spoke] about one Lindsey Graham. I can tell you some stories about some of the things he engaged in while we were trying to impeach the former president,” Barr recalled, harking back to the 15-year-old event that defined his career.
After being prodded for details on this by a questioner, Barr, who is running for Congress again, suggested that Graham was more sympathetic to President Clinton’s case behind the scenes than in public.
He described a meeting in 1998 that occurred after the House impeached Clinton and was preparing its case for the Senate to consider.
“One particular member of our House impeachment managers’ team, whose name has already been mentioned a couple times this evening, was so interested in allowing Mr. Clinton, if he would just say he was sorry, then all would be forgiven. And I think had Mr. Clinton learned that, that all he had to do was say ‘I’m sorry for interpreting what the meaning of is is’ or ‘I’m sorry for lying,’ then we would not have had our votes to proceed with the impeachment. That was just one instance,” Barr explained without directly mentioning Graham.
Perhaps Barr sensed that the crowd was beginning to sour on the incessant Graham bashing, because when the questioner requested more examples of Graham’s supposed nefarious behavior, Barr diverted to a pitch about his own Georgia congressional campaign.
Taken together, the Democrat Caddell and Libertarian Barr attacking Graham isn’t all that surprising. It was rather the feverish glee both took in doing so and the reaction they received from a Palmetto State Republican crowd that baffled some in attendance.
“I didn’t like that he came into our state and asked for help on his Georgia campaign while bashing our senator,” one exasperated Republican told me afterward. “Are you kidding me? Go back to Georgia.”