The problem with the Tea Party, Sen. Lindsey Graham was saying, is that it's "just unsustainable." They will "never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country." The shelf life of this new movement: "It will die out." Graham was talking in 2010 to (egads!) The New York Times about the type of candidate he wanted to run for president in 2012. "We don't have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats."
And that is why Lindsey Graham is everywhere President Obama isn't these days. Graham, personally popular but politically mistrusted in his conference because of his deep association with Sen. John McCain and his willingness to secretly negotiate with Democrats, is now the face of opposition to Sen. Chuck Hagel. He'll hold up Hagel's nomination to "get to the bottom of what happened," referring to the Senator's penchant for blunt talk about Israel. He promised to hold up the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA because the White House won't answer his questions about Benghazi (even though they've answered his questions). At this point, he very nearly literally wants to know how many tears the president shed, and when he shed them.
Graham, as NPR noted this week, is up for re-election. The Tea Party is prominent within the South Carolina Republican Party. A number of top GOPers are quietly preparing to run against him. (They once actually, as a body, formally rebuked him). They are preparing a bill of goods that includes everything from his work on immigration reform to his support for the TARP bailout.
There is no better way to earn the grace and favor of Republican activists than to be in President Obama's face. Activists have long memories. But they also fall victim to the availability bias: what's most recent sticks in their head, while the other stuff kind of fades away. No doubt that Graham's confrontational posture against the Tea Party will be the fodder of many ads against him. On the other hand, if he genuinely kicks some Obama butt and raises a lot of money early, he can scare away credible challengers.