It was, in theory, a meeting with reporters on legislation that would require congressional approval of any deal with Iran. It turned into the umpteenth airing of grievances by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham about Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Sitting in the Senate press gallery, Graham was asked to respond to Paul's latest attack on "hawks," in which the Kentuckian mixed up the zoology and calling them "lapdogs" for President Obama.
"If he was the nominee, I would support him," said Graham, "but if he is the nominee of the party I think we risk giving up the central issue of the 2006 campaign, which is foreign policy."
Graham disputed Paul's claim to be a peace-through-strength conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan. "I think he qualifies as a Ron Paul Republican," said Graham. "There’s no shame in that, but you’ve got to be who you are here."
Over a few more questions and answers, Graham spelled out a critique of Paul over everything from opposing a resolution that put Congress on record against containment of Iran ("Ninety to one... even Bernie Sanders got it!"), to having a "foreign policy vision one step behind 'leading from behind.'" He got more specific when rebutting an argument Paul had made at last weekend's Republican summit in New Hampshire. The Kentucky senator had warned conservatives that Graham once said detainees did not have the right to a lawyer. Graham reiterated that he had been talking about enemy combatants—and of course they didn't have the right to a lawyer.
"An unlawful enemy combatant can be captured or killed under the law of war," said Graham. "There was a time when senator Paul wanted a court to decide what the enemies of nations were. That’s not what judges are set to do. Just a couple of days ago, he mentioned that I was for detaining people without a trial. Absolutely, I’m for detaining enemy combatants under the law of war, consistent with due process."
Graham criticized Paul further, for asking questions about drone killings of American citizens who could be classified as enemy combatants. "President Obama believes he has the authority to kill Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was an American citizen, the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen, without a court order," said Graham. "He does."
This chance to air disputes with the GOP's leading realist was one reason Graham was considering his own run for president. Paul, he argued, was not just wrong but a potential loser. "I think he would have the worst chance of anybody to make a case against Barack Obama’s foreign policy."