The Definitive H&H Lindsey Graham Scouting Report

Breaking down the South Carolina senator's bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Graham Touts Foreign Policy Experience for 2016 Bid

What he’s got: Broad experience on the national and international stages; three decades of military service and the credibility and esteem that go along with it; a blue-collar upbringing; a South Carolina base; a winning personality; unflappability; the abundant goodwill of political and media elites; the unmistakable spirit of the happiest warrior in the race.

What he lacks: A signature domestic issue; a national political following; organizational strength outside his home state; an off-the-shelf all-star team of backers.

Biggest question mark: Can he go from known curiosity to political force?

Message: America must be the leader of a free world.

Core constituencies: Veterans; South Carolinians; the most hawkish defense hawks.

Signature issues: Muscular, aggressively interventionist foreign policy; entitlement reform; broadening the appeal of the Republican Party to non-white and younger voters.

Fundraising mojo: New and largely untested on the national money scene, but knows a lot of rich people in fancy places from his years on Capitol Hill.

Spouse and family: Never married and childless, he speaks often and movingly about the death of his parents and his care for his sister.

Perceived electability as GOP nominee: A topic barely discussed.

National-security credentials: His long Air Force, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserves career (which is only now coming to an end as he reaches mandatory retirement age); time spent at the center of all recent major and minor foreign policy debates; extensive world travel and international contact; and deep knowledge make him the most fluid and experienced defense and diplomacy prospect in the field.

Lindsey Graham, U.S. senator from South Carolina, right, speaks in support of John McCain, U.S. senator from Arizona and 2008 Republican presidential candidate, left, during a campaign stop at Tommy's Country Ham House, in Greenville, South Carolina, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008.

Senator Lindsey Graham (right) speaks in support of Senator John McCain during a campaign stop in Greenville, S.C., on Jan. 10, 2008.

Photographer: David Brody/Bloomberg

Television skills: Fluid, funny, and frequently on the tube, he knows the drill as well as his amigo John McCain; sometimes lets his passion or inability to resist a joke send him off-message, or into an odd tonal place.

Social media/online chops: Pretty high-quality content on Twitter but fewer than 75K followers and not a great feel for potential virality.

Media coverage: Beloved to the point of excess by reporters, editors, bookers, and anchors, who nonetheless largely don’t take him seriously as a candidate or potential president.

Polling strength: Even in South Carolina, hasn’t exhibited any real degree of upward movement.

The Big Mo: Has set off a few sparks, but needs a push to get onto the debate stage, where he would likely excel.

Fire in the belly: Clearly enjoying the increased prominence, relevance, and credibility that comes with his new role, but does not evince a burning desire to grab the Oval ring.

The hang test: Statewide election in South Carolina requires a fair amount of hang-ability; has the working-class sensibility and pleasing manner that translates in a VFW hall, a diner, a posh home, and pretty much everywhere else.

Challenges party orthodoxy: On immigration, climate change, and willingness to compromise.

Best moment of 2016 cycle so far: When he convinced the political world he was serious about making a run.

Worst moment of 2016 cycle so far: Every day is a good day for the always-genial Mr. Graham.

Best Bloomberg Politics moment: Played his jokester part flawlessly in the St. Patrick’s Day episode of  With All Due Respect.

With All Due Respect (03/17/15)

Picture he doesn’t want you to see: Palling around with his former Senate colleague and chum, Hillary Clinton.

Senator Lindsay Graham and Senator Hillary Clinton at a press conference announcing the formation of the manufacturing caucus on June 14, 2005.

Senators Lindsay Graham and Hillary Clinton appear at a press conference announcing the formation of the manufacturing caucus on June 14, 2005.

Photographer: Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call/Getty Images
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