As they battled on the presidential campaign trail, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would call U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to talk about ideas on national security, an expertise of the Seneca Republican.
After Graham dropped out of the race on Dec. 21, their chats continued. Meanwhile, most of Graham’s S.C. backers endorsed Bush, the son and brother of two presidents, having worked on George H.W. Bush’s and George W. Bush’s successful Palmetto State presidential primary wins.
Graham, as expected, endorsed Jeb Bush on Friday.
The senator had said last week that he would need to see if caused any damage to himself in South Carolina in his presidential run before endorsing a GOP candidate.
Based on his military experience and knowledge of national security, the top concern of GOP voters, Graham concluded, “I have earned the right to be listened to.”
Graham said he picked Bush because he is the steady candidate who, in the senator’s opinion, can best aid the country, divided during the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama and seeking better solutions to defeat radical Islamic terrorists.
“He didn’t talk the most last night, but he made the most sense,” Graham said of Bush’s performance in GOP presidential debate Thursday in North Charleston.
Graham has said he would not endorse the top two GOP national front-runners, Donald Trump or U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He thinks their harsh, uncompromising views divide the party, driving away potential supporters.
“Everything we learned for the 2012 election, he has ignored,” Graham said last week of Trump.
Bush echoed Graham’s sentiment about Trump during the debate, saying the New York billionaire’s proposed temporary ban on Muslims from entering the country undermines U.S. foreign policy.
Bush said having the race’s top national security expert on his side should help win over voters. Bush needs a big push as voters start to cast ballots next month. He is running fifth in national and most early primary-state polls, including South Carolina, according to averages compiled by Real Clear Politics.
“His endorsement of my candidacy is a huge validator of what kind of president I would be,” Bush said.
Graham said Bush showed confidence in his willingness to call him to seek national security advice while they both were competing for the GOP nomination.
“I learned a long time ago that I know what I don’t know, and it gives me a huge advantage over some of the larger egos on the stage,” Bush said.
Graham’s announcement leaves two other top S.C. Republicans, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and Gov. Nikki Haley, who have not endorsed a candidate.
Scott is expected to back U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a close Scott friend and ally, has endorsed Rubio. The Spartanburg Republican campaigned with Rubio and spoke to reporters on the senator’s behalf in the spin room after Thursday’s GOP debate in North Charleston.
Haley has said she could endorse a White House hopeful before South Carolina’s Feb. 20 Republican presidential primary. Haley backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the state’s 2012 primary. Romney lost that primary to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich but went on to win the GOP nomination.