Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has earned the ire of Tea Party groups for his penchant for negotiating with Democrats, predicted this week the movement will "die out."
Graham, who has partnered with Democrats on immigration reform and energy and climate legislation, made the observation in a New York Times Magazine profile titled "Lindsey Graham, This Year's Maverick" to be published this Sunday:
“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 as Cato drove him to the city of Greenwood, where he was to give a commencement address at Lander University later that morning. 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.”
Graham's comments are likely to further the divide between him and the conservative grassroots groups, which some see as a key voting bloc for Republicans during this year's midterm elections.
The South Carolina Republican was elected to the Senate in 2002 and won reelection in 2008. He is not up for reelection until 2014, though some conservatives have said his gestures to Democrats could invite a primary challenge.
His comments underscore the rift between the anti-establishment Tea Party groups and some Republicans in Congress.
Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who was ousted for another term by Tea Party groups at his state's GOP convention, has taken several shots at the group since his defeat.
The three-term senator suggested the movement simply thrives off voter anger and does not act rationally. This week, Bennett also made similar comments to Graham, saying that the GOP is running short on ideas.
Other Republicans such as House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), have praised the movement for its energy and enthusiasm.
Graham also detailed his clashes with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) over the climate bill. He told the Times that he and the top Democrat exchanged “a few F-bombs” during their conversation before hanging up.
Graham has negotiated with Democrats on immigration and energy, but broke off talks on climate when it appeared Democrats were going to move forward first on immigration.