U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Monday that other Republican presidential candidates aren’t talking enough about defense cuts that threaten national security.
Graham, one of 17 Republicans running for president, said some libertarians in the party think the defense cuts included in the budget compromise known as the “sequester” are a good thing and they’d slash the Pentagon even more.
He also pointed to a comment by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, another Republican presidential candidate, who recently told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt: “The sequester doesn’t matter to me.”
A Kasich spokesman later clarified the remark, saying the sequester doesn’t matter to Kasich because he wants to lift it for the military and spend more on defense “if necessary” while reforming the Pentagon, according to published reports. The Kasich spokesman, Chris Schrimpf, couldn’t be reached on deadline Monday.
Kasich is polling better than Graham in New Hampshire, a state that Graham has said is crucial to his campaign’s fortunes.
Graham said in Spartanburg that he doesn’t want a commander-in-chief “who doesn’t understand that the cuts to our military greatly diminish the ability to defend ourselves.”
“Is now the time to have the smallest Army since 1940? Is now the time to have the smallest Navy since 1915? Is now the time to lay people off who are well trained?” Graham asked reporters following a talk to members of the North Spartanburg Rotary Club at the Spartanburg Marriott.
Graham said the defense cuts, if left unchanged, would affect military bases across South Carolina — the Fort Jackson Army boot camp in Columbia, Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter and the Marine Corps air station and Parris Island boot camp in Beaufort County.
“All of our military facilities are going to be put in jeopardy if we don’t turn around military spending,” Graham said. “We have a very large military footprint in South Carolina. It will be at risk over time.”
Graham also dismissed a recent poll that found him with just 4 percent support of likely voters in South Carolina’s Feb. 20 presidential preference primary. New York billionaire Donald Trump was first in the Monmouth University Poll with 30 percent.
“I’ve been involved in South Carolina politics for 20 years,” Graham told reporters. “I know my state. I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think I could win here.
“For me, I have to do well outside of South Carolina,” he said. “I have to break through in New Hampshire. If I can do well there, we’ll just wipe them out here.”