South Carolina

Who’s got a good shot of defeating his golf buddy? Graham weighs in on 2020 race

If anyone has a shot of presenting a serious challenge to President Donald Trump’s re-election, it’s Joe Biden, said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“He’s a good man. He’s a real decent guy,” the Seneca Republican told reporters Thursday in Columbia. “He represents the Obama era that some people like. He can connect to average people. We’ll see how liberal he gets in his policies.”

Graham said the former vice president has “taken a more traditional liberal position” in the campaign, rather than more progressive positions embraced by other Democratic presidential candidates who, for example, have pushed for a federally run universal health care plan for everyone.

“He’s rejected decriminalizing illegal entry (to the United States). He’s said try to save Obamacare rather than (implement) Medicare for All,” Graham said of Biden. “If he can maintain that position and you get through the primary, I think he would be a tough candidate for President Trump.”

Biden remains at the top of early polls for Democratic presidential contenders, but rivals see weakness, the Associated Press reported.

Posing little threat for Trump, however, is a possible candidate from the Palmetto State: former Republican S.C. governor and former Congressman Mark Sanford, Graham said.

Sanford was in New Hampshire, another early presidential primary state, this week exploring a 2020 primary run against Trump.

“Well, I’m sure he’ll do better than I did,” Graham said of Sanford. “The bar is pretty low.”

Graham dropped out of the crowded 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination before the South Carolina primary.

“Republicans in South Carolina are 90-percent-plus supportive of the president’s agenda,” Graham said. “I’ll let Mark decide what’s best for Mark, but I think the Republican Party has made up its mind in South Carolina. What’s best for the country is Donald Trump.”

Graham cited the federal tax cuts passed in 2017 backed by Trump, boosting military spending, appointing conservative judges — including two new Supreme Court justices — and stripping federal regulations he argues hinder business development.

While “two out of three” GOP primary voters may wish Trump would “tone it down” with personal attacks on Twitter, when it comes to policy they side with the president, Graham said.

Sanford has said he was driven to consider a presidential bid out of his anxiety about the rising national debt, which has surged under Trump.

“The debt is a big problem. It’s got to be done in a bipartisan fashion” through entitlement reform, Graham said.

“But one thing I do know for sure, no matter who runs against Donald Trump in the Republican primary in South Carolina, Donald Trump is going to win overwhelmingly throughout the country” in the general election, Graham said. “If the economy stays strong, and I think it will, if we don’t make any mistakes in Afghanistan by leaving too soon, I think it’s his election to lose.”

The best thing Trump could do to boost his re-election, Graham said, “is to put an infrastructure bill on the table.”

“It would dramatically improve the economy,” he said.

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.