Lindsey Graham spits out tea party

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010; 9:35 AM

The tea party has no shortage of critics, especially among left-leaning folks who regard it with a mixture of anxiety and suspicion.

But deciphering what this movement stands for can be like nailing Jell-O to the wall. It's not a real party, it has no platform, it's not clear who the members are, and it seems to encompass a range of views on the right.

Journalists too often characterize the tea people by the craziest fringe that shows up at rallies with offensive signs. Polling suggests they are largely small-government, anti-Obama activists -- assuming pollsters can get a good sample among folks who don't have to register for an official party -- but they seem more united by generalized anger than specific solutions.

Republicans love the grass-roots enthusiasm that the tea party generates -- even though the followers theoretically blame both parties for the mess in Washington -- but some are wary of being tarred with a brand that may turn off independents.

And then there's Lindsey Graham.

The South Carolina senator has already ticked off the right by being willing to negotiate deals with Democrats. He doesn't see bipartisanship as a dirty word.

Now he's turned his tart tongue on the tea types.

What's more, the New York Times Magazine brands him "This Year's Maverick"--which, given the source, is unlikely to boost his standing in some GOP circles.

Since it began posting articles online in midweek, the Times Magazine has boosted its impact to newsmagazine levels -- and I expect this new piece by Robert Draper will be no exception:

" 'Everything I'm doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement's at,' Graham said. . . . On four occasions, Graham met with Tea Party groups. The first, in his Senate office, was 'very, very contentious,' he recalled. During a later meeting, in Charleston, Graham said he challenged them: ' 'What do you want to do? You take back your country -- and do what with it?'. . . . Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent.'

"In a previous conversation, Graham told me: 'The problem with the Tea Party, I think it's just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.' Now he said, in a tone of casual lament: '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.' Chortling, he added, 'Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.' "

Yow. He's saying the tea party has no answers, and that his party has moved so far to the right that Reagan would be seen as a squishy moderate.

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