Ever since 13 Senate Republicans joined Democrats in consenting to the terrible New START treaty, Sen. Lindsey Graham has been on a tirade, telling any conservative who’ll listen that “Harry Reid ate our lunch,” meaning that Democratic leadership outmaneuvered Republicans in getting the treaty and other agenda items enacted during the lame duck session. My trial lawyer antennae tell me it sounds remarkably well rehearsed for a bit of spontaneous indignation. I first heard him do the rant on Greta Van Susteren’s Fox show last night. But then this morning, Fox’s Brian Kilmeade reported that Sen. Graham had actually called into Brian’s radio show earlier yesterday, just after the START vote, in order to give the same “Harry ate our lunch” speech. Fox kept reporting about it this morning, complete with commentary from our friend Dana Perino, who sounded like she’s buying it.
I say, “Cry me a river.” Given the clout they have in the Republican caucus on national security and legal matters, Sen. Graham and his close ally, Sen. McCain, could have stopped START dead in its tracks a month ago by condemning it in the same terms Graham is now using. The treaty hasn’t changed a wit in that time. But Graham and McCain instead played a coy game of “maybe we’ll support it, maybe we won’t.” This, along with Sen. Lugar’s enthusiastic support, gave the Obama administration the space it needed to work on other Republican moderates, who were court-able precisely because McCain and Graham were indicating that the treaty was probably okay – or at least shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. We even heard that McCain and Graham were horse-trading: signaling the administration that approval of START was an acceptable price for saying no to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
If Sen. Graham is sincerely steamed, I’d wager it’s the common remorse of a gambler who knows he has overplayed his hand. There were too many cards and players beyond his control. Obama found enough court-able Republicans and got DADT anyway. By then, because Graham and McCain had let the game go on too long, there was too much momentum in START’s direction to stop it.
Then a big deal was made of the letter McCain is said to have wrested from Pres. Obama, offering collateral and totally unenforceable promises on missile defense. As had to have been known by McCain and Graham (a lawyer who obviously understands that the letter has utterly no impact on the treaty), the letter was just the fig leaf wavering moderates needed to give their consent to the pact. If McCain is truly the one who got Obama to write it, he did nothing to make the treaty better, but he did virtually ensure that it would be approved.
So if Sen. Graham feels his lunch has been eaten, he’s got himself to blame. He knows we’re now saddled with a bad pact that will be increasingly unpopular with conservatives. Having helped create the climate in which it could be ratified even though Republicans had the numbers to stop it, he’s trying to distance himself. But I’m not sure I agree with Dana’s speculation that Graham’s anger is such that his bridge with the Obama administration is now burned. The senator is not up for reelection until 2014. There’s still time for plenty of bipartisanship.