Potential Republican 2016 presidential candidate Lindsey Graham smiles after leaving the "CBS This Morning" studios in Manhattan on May 18, 2015. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)
Opinion writer

If you can’t take a joke,” Lindsey Graham has said , “don’t run for president.”

Graham, a senator from South Carolina and one of umpteen Republicans running for president, can take a joke — which is why he appreciates the absurdity that is the GOP field. There are far too many candidates (so many that there are concerns they won’t all fit on a debate stage), and to gain attention they are juggling, tooting horns and blowing slide whistles like so many painted performers emerging from a clown car.

“I do bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, weddings, funerals — call me, I’ll come,” Graham told a crowd in New Hampshire last month. He said voters should ignore Hillary Clinton and “look to the 35 people running for president on the Republican side. And just shoot up among us until you get one of us out of the tree.”

There is little dignity for Republicans as they try to break free of the very large flock — as Graham experienced Monday morning when he appeared on “CBS This Morning” to make what MSNBC reported would be a “very important” announcement.

CBS evidently wasn’t impressed by the importance. Graham cooled his heels in the green room while the morning show reported on the Amtrak crash, trouble in Iraq, a biker-gang fight, the “Mad Men” finale, daredevils killed in Yosemite, murders in Northwest Washington — and a great white shark who is on Twitter.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he will announce whether he will make a White House bid on June 1 in South Carolina. (Reuters)

Only after those — and various breaks for local weather and traffic — did Graham get his moment, in the show’s second hour. His very important announcement turned out to be that he was announcing that he would make an announcement in two weeks.

Gayle King, one of the anchors, pointed out that there wasn’t a whole lot of mystery involved, because Graham had already said on Friday that there was a 99.9 percent chance he will run. (He had previously put the likelihood at 98.6 percent.) “We offer you this beautiful platform,” King proposed.

“It is a beautiful platform, but it’s not as beautiful as central South Carolina, where I will make an announcement on June 1st,” he said.

Another host, Charlie Rose, ignored this. “Are you running in part because you looked at the field and you don’t think they’re very sophisticated on foreign policy?”

Graham momentarily forgot his phony coyness. “I’m running because of what you see on television. I’m running because I think the world is falling apart,” he said.

So never mind that 0.1 percent chance that he isn’t running.

Thus did Graham try his hand at the presidential announcement game, in which candidates pretend there is some intrigue about their intentions in order to get some precious airtime. Ted Cruz tried for his 15 minutes of fame by holding the first announcement. Marco Rubio drew thousands to Miami’s Freedom Tower. Mike Huckabee brought in aging crooner Tony Orlando but was easily eclipsed by Ben Carson, who had a musical extravaganza and a video putting the candidate in the company of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

Former New York governor George Pataki, perhaps the smallest of the GOP Lilliputians, announced on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week that . . . he will make his announcement on May 28. Donald Trump announced over the weekend that he would make an announcement in June and that “the announcement is going to surprise a lot of people.”

Surprise is unlikely, though, because it assumes people care what Trump has to say.

In the oversold Republican primary situation, a candidate is likeliest to get attention when there’s a screw-up, such as Jeb Bush’s five attempts last week to answer a simple question about Iraq, or the borderline racist questions posed to Cruz by Mark Halperin of Bloomberg News.

Graham has potential to break out of the pack by saying some truly zany things. Last month, the 59-year-old bachelor spoke of having no offspring to pay into Social Security. “How do you fix that?” he asked. “Well, Strom Thurmond had four kids after he was 67. Do I have any volunteers?” He then added, “One guy raised his hand, but he didn’t understand the question.”

In Iowa over the weekend (with a dozen other GOP presidential wannabes), Graham declared that instead of going to court to deal with American citizens who are terrorists, “I’m gonna call a drone and we will kill you.”

Monday on CBS, King thought she had caught Graham in another such outrage when she asked him what needed to be done in Iraq and Syria.

“More,” Graham said.

“Did you say ‘war’?” King asked.

“More,” Graham repeated. “. . . More trainers, more advisers.”

Graham, who once joked that prisoners at Gitmo should be punished by being forced to listen to Republican candidates, is not going to get attention saying sensible things such as that.

In retrospect, you couldn’t blame CBS for going first to Mary Lee, the tweeting shark.

Twitter: @Milbank

Read more from Dana Milbank’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.