Graham is the New Maverick

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As Republicans have become less and less inclined to reach out to the Democrats and the Obama Administration – those even willing to listen are becoming noteworthy. Lindsey Graham is one of those who’ll listen, though it remains to be seen if any major legislation will be produced from his talks. In researching this story, I was fascinated by the contrast between Graham and the junior senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint.

The two profess to be friends, though DeMint repeatedly declined to be interviewed for my story. Instead his spokesperson e-mailed a statement from the senator: “Lindsey and I are great friends and have worked together well for years. Even if we occasionally differ on how best to arrive at a solution, we usually end up at the same conclusion on most issues. We respect each other, and I’m glad to serve with someone like Lindsey who cares so passionately about moving South Carolina and the nation forward.”

While Graham believes that backing candidates like Delaware’s Mike Castle and California’s Carly Fiorina are the future of the party, DeMint believes that endorsing their oft-longshot conservative challengers is the right way to go.  DeMint spends much of his time looking for ways to block or slow down legislation, while Graham is a popular co-sponsor of bipartisan amendments. Their differences highlight the split within the GOP as moderate Republicans rapidly are becoming an endangered species. Graham explained why he thinks it’s important to support moderate Republicans:

Jim, his concerns for the party, I share many of them. We have lost our way. And I understand what he’s trying to do with respect to more conservative beliefs. But I want to grow the party. And I don’t think conservatism and coalition building are mutually exclusive. I don’t think conservatism and working across the aisle are mutually exclusive. Ronald Reagan proved to us that you could do both. So, one thing I want to do is: if we had one more Republican we wouldn’t be having this health care debate, this thing would be over. Why? Because they wouldn’t have 60 votes. If we had one more Republican like Mike Castle this thing would be over.

The difference also is that while Graham gets censured from Republicans at home for his willingness to listen, DeMint is celebrated. And that’s more than fine with Democrats – they’d rather see a shrunken “pure” Republican Party in the minority for decades to come.