Lindsey Graham Stands Out in Undercard Debate

Lindsey Graham Stands Out in Undercard Debate
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SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Lindsey Graham appeared to sleepwalk through the first undercard debate. In the second one, he woke up.

“Thanks, CNN, for having people at this debate,” Graham joked in his opening remarks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, alluding to the empty auditorium he had faced last month in Cleveland.

From there, the hawkish senator from South Carolina was back in his signature feisty, funny form, slinging punch lines as he seemed to steer the arc of each question back to his banner issue: the threat posed to the U.S. by radical Islam.

“We’re going to pull up the caliphate by its roots,” Graham said of ISIS, “and kill every one of these bastards we can find.”

Helping to push Graham into the spotlight was a smaller undercard debate, which this time only included three other candidates on the stage with him. The format enabled Graham to jump in to challenge his opponents. In one spirited back-and-forth, he challenged Bobby Jindal after the Louisiana governor suggested that the Republican-led Congress has failed to take important symbolic stands.

“Are you going to shut the government down?” the South Carolina senator challenged, alluding to fights Republicans in Congress have had over health care and funding for Planned Parenthood, among other issues.

“I wish Republicans in D.C. had half the fight of Senate Democrats,” Jindal countered.

“The one thing I’m not going to do going into 2016 is shut the government down and taint our ability to win,” Graham shot back.

Hugh Hewitt, one of the debate moderators, complimented Graham, saying, “You’re having a good debate, but there is this problem of Washington elites.”

“No one has ever called me elite,” Graham responded, before launching into his personal story of growing up in his parents' pool hall and bar.

In another memorable exchange, Graham sparred with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum over immigration policy, touting his support for immigration reform in the Senate and pointing out that President George W. Bush, who won much higher support of Hispanics in the 2004 election than Mitt Romney in 2012, supported immigration reform.

“In my world, Hispanics are Americans,” Graham said.

When Carly Fiorina was dubbed the winner of the first undercard debate, she saw a sharp rise in the polls, ultimately earning her a spot in the prime-time debate this time around. Graham is currently polling at below 1 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics average. Whether Graham sees a similar boost in the polls from his debate performance Wednesday, he insisted to reporters afterward that he will not soon go the way of Rick Perry, who dropped out of the race Friday.

“I stay in this race. I fight, until the bitter end,” Graham said. “We’re not quitting.”

RealClearPolitics’ congressional reporter James Arkin contributed to this article.

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at


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