Charleston, S.C. — Just a few weeks after ditching the presidential race, Lindsey Graham tried to shake it up Friday by snubbing a close Senate colleague.
The South Carolina senator and Sunday show perma-guest endorsed Jeb Bush this Friday morning, popping into a meeting room in a North Charleston DoubleTree hotel to praise the former Florida governor. And, since no Bush event would be complete without a discussion of Marco Rubio, the governor’s rival came up throughout.
Bush has done little to hide his disapproval of Rubio’s presidential politicking but Graham’s decision to get on board with the Marco-bashing surprised some. After all, Rubio and Graham are cut from identical ideological cloth when it comes to foreign policy, and Graham joined with Rubio in 2013 to push for comprehensive immigration reform.
So why did Graham opt for a low-polling former governor saddled with a problematic last name instead of teaming up again with his Senate ally? There are a host of interesting theories, but immigration was the most prominent issue at the press event where Graham announced the endorsement.
Flanked by other supporters and addressing national media, Bush charged that Rubio’s abandonment of his immigration reform efforts—the Florida senator decided to oppose his own bill a few months after it passed—reflected poorly on his character.
“Marco cut and run, plain and simple, for whatever reason,” the former governor said. “There may be legitimate reasons, but he cut and run. He asked for my support on a bill and he cut and run. He cut and run on his colleagues as well.”
Graham, of course, was one of those colleagues. And when reporters pressed him on the issue, he didn’t have kind words for his erstwhile ally.
“I’m not here to talk about Marco Rubio’s commitment to immigration reform,” he said. “I’ve seen Jeb has been consistent. All I can say is that I worked hard to pass a bill. You can always make the bill better. I never cut and run.”
Graham allies, speaking anonymously because Graham didn’t authorize them to talk, argued that the South Carolinian sustained more political injury because of his consistent immigration stance and Rubio hung him out to dry. They say Florida’s growing Hispanic population means Rubio could have stayed the immigration-reform course without seriously jeopardizing his political future. Graham, meanwhile, won the “Lindsey Grahamnesty” nickname from Rush Limbaugh because of his work on the issue, and faced two tricky primary elections because of his pro-reform stance.
In their view, Rubio’s repudiation of his own bill—four months after he voted for it—didn’t exactly make him a profile in courage.
And it seems to have made Graham’s decision to join Team Bush just a tad easier.