Double Standards: 'Jovial' Lindsey Graham vs. Possibly 'Unprincipled' Scott Walker in New York Times

Moderate Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, constant critic of conservativces. Conservative activist Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who has survived brutal battles with public unions. Both are Republicans running presidential campaigns on their own terms, according to separate stories on A18 of Thursday's New York Times. But that's where the similarities in their treatment ends. While Graham was a "jovial...thoughtful man" who told "hard truths" to his stubbornly conservative party, Walker was a "political lifer" who was definitely "obsessive" over politics, and possibly "unprincipled" as well.

Graham's criticisms of the more conservative Republican candidates (and his own U.S. Senate colleagues) Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have been popular among Democrats and the Times. He certainly charmed Times reporter Ashley Parker, who delivered such flawless fawning ("Old-School Campaign Amid Field of Memes") that you would think Graham was a Democrat:

In a presidential election cycle awash in social media and high-tech campaign tactics, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is proudly, almost defiantly, old-fashioned.

Mr. Graham, a Republican presidential hopeful, still carries a flip cellphone.

He jokes that Snapchat, the popular messaging app in which photo and video messages disappear moments after they arrive, is “too long-winded.” And he good-naturedly laments his paltry number of Facebook followers.

But that has not stopped Mr. Graham, a pragmatic three-term senator and former Air Force judge, from waging a bid for the White House, positioning himself as a foreign policy hawk who is ready, as he puts it, “to be commander in chief on Day 1.” That he is barnstorming the country on his own terms just so happens to be sugar in his already sweet tea.

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Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said he would run for president only if he could do it “joyfully.” Mr. Graham is actually doing so, taking the lessons he learned while riding alongside his friend and mentor, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, on his Straight Talk Express in 2008. As his sidekick and comrade, Mr. Graham internalized Mr. McCain’s school of retail politics -- from the shake-every-hand town hall to the nothing-to-lose ethos born from barely registering in most national polls.

Moderate, conservative-bashing McCain got favorable coverage during the early stages of the 2008 Republican contest as well -- until he won the nomination and became the only thing standing between the first black or woman president on the Democratic side.

But generally, Mr. Graham offers a departure from Washington’s self-serious culture, a thoughtful man who also happens to be engaged in the jovial pursuit of politics. At the donor retreat, Mr. Graham sipped riesling (another favorite is Baileys over ice) while entertaining reporters with slightly more bawdy quips and one-liners than he routinely offers on the campaign trail.

In public, Mr. Graham is a khaki-clad, one-man vaudeville act, interspersing policy prescriptions with a heavy dose of borscht belt comedy. At a recent candidate barbecue in Iowa, Mr. Graham, poking fun at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s refusal to take questions from the news media, joked that “it’s easier to meet the leader of North Korea” than Mrs. Clinton.

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As for now, Mr. Graham has the advantages of a perpetual underdog. He is struggling to crack the top 10 in national polls, a position that would ensure a spot on the early primary debate stage. And, in some ways, he is liberated from many of the unappealing trappings of a presidential campaign: He has no obvious base to pander to, no establishment middle ground to lurch toward, no billionaire donor to placate.

Instead, Lindsey can just be Lindsey: the anti-abortion, pro-military, hawkish Republican who also happens to believe in climate change and a comprehensive approach to immigration, and who asks voters to sacrifice when it comes to overhauling entitlement programs.

Eventually one gets to truly understand why Parker and the Times are so enamored of this particular Republican: His liberal stands on climate change and illegal immigration, or, as Parker termed it, "candor" and "hard truths."

While Mr. Graham’s candidacy may seem far-fetched, many Republicans privately commend his candor, saying his policy positions are rooted in hard truths their party needs to hear.

Mr. Graham, for instance, mocks his Republican rivals for their answers when asked about climate change. “Everybody says, ‘Well, I’m no scientist,’” Mr. Graham said. “O.K., well, why don’t you believe 90 percent of the people who are? Why do you only believe the one guy who tells you what you think people want to hear?”

By contrast, "For a Strategist, Walker Always Turns to Himself," by the ever-condescending Jonathan Martin, found some unflattering adjectives for the conservative Wisconsin governor, including  "obsessive," "unprincipled," and "political lifer."

Mr. Walker’s tendency to play consultant revealed itself long before his own presidential bid.

In October 2000, Mr. Walker, then a 32-year-old state representative from Wauwatosa, published what he called “an open memo” to George W. Bush, sketching out four campaign commercials that he said would help Mr. Bush defeat Al Gore.

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Twelve years later, Mr. Walker was at it again, firing off unsolicited strategic advice in an email to Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee.

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Mr. Walker’s hands-on approach to his political operation in Wisconsin bordered on the obsessive, judging from a trove of emails from his time as Milwaukee county executive, and as a candidate for governor, that was released as part of a lawsuit.

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Just as it is considered unwise for a lawyer to represent himself in court, though, Mr. Walker’s self-reliance on political strategy could prove problematic.

His penchant for veering off into the arcana and mechanics of politics can divert him from his message, unintentionally raise expectations and, more significantly, reinforce an impression his opponents are hoping will take hold: that he is a political lifer with a shallow grasp of policy who lacks the gravitas the presidency demands.

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Such moves, while tempting in the short term, can also lead to accusations of being unprincipled.

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What was understandable for an ambitious politician on the rise now has even Mr. Walker’s allies saying he had better let the consultants do the consulting.

NBDaily 2016 Presidential Congress Double Standards New York Times Scott Walker Ashley Parker Jonathan Martin Lindsey Graham
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