What Lindsey Graham's exit means for the GOP race

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 21, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today I'm suspending my campaign for president. I want to thank everyone who has taken this journey with me.

My campaign has come to a point where I need to think about getting out and helping somebody else. I don't want to be the undercard voice. I cannot tell you how frustrating it has been to have to spend all this time and effort preparing myself to be commander in chief and be put at the kiddie table.


SHANNON BREAM, GUEST ANCHOR: Let's bring in our panel to talk about today's developments, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

All right, so another one is gone. Still many options left for voters out there, Steve. Senator Graham says it's not his time and the best he can do now is help somebody else. And some people say, well, he's got one percent maybe in the polls. But as Mike Emanuel pointed out, South Carolina is a very important early state. How much could his endorsement or support help?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think endorsements as a general proposition don't move a lot of voters. But if you're looking for somebody to blast a candidate, it can't hurt that he would endorse a Marco Rubio or a Chris Christie or a Jeb Bush, perhaps, in South Carolina.

I think the bigger question would be, does Lindsey Graham have much of an organization that he could move to support one of those folks, presumably, and actually make a difference in terms of getting people to the polls or rallying people to events, things of that nature.

BREAM: A.B., many of his fellow competitors, no longer competitors, but others in the field in reacting to him said that he was a very strong voice on issues of ISIS, of foreign policy, the military, and that they thought he was very serious and they said it would be a voice that would be missed.

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: Right. I think, obviously, look at the timing of this, and both Chris Christie and Lindsey Graham were listened to a lot more by the voters once we saw the attacks in Paris and then the ones in California. So there was never going to be a lot of momentum for Lindsey Graham the way that we're seeing for Chris Christie in New Hampshire, but they were finally coming through with a message about whatever Barack Obama is doing against ISIS Syria and Iraq not working.

And so for Lindsey Graham, I don't think he can give a big, like you said, a big organization in his endorsement, but this will be in the debate. And I think he and McCain will try to, once they pick someone, John McCain, who is his biggest supporter, once they pick someone, they are going to play to win. And they're going to challenge the other people in the field on a solution to this, because we saw in that debate that it's Lindsey Graham versus everyone else. Everyone else is talking big about really engaging Sunni Arabs and getting those boots on the ground and lots of intelligence surges and everything else, but it's not much different.
Lindsey Graham is the only one that has actually said this is an operation on the ground that needs to be fought on the ground with boots on the ground. So it will be interesting to see who he ends up choosing.

BREAM: Yes. And of course decades of military experience himself so speaking from a slightly different perspective than most of others in this race. And it's no secret that he had some notorious dustups with Donald Trump. There were some words back and forth that we cannot say unless we want a fine on television. But he didn't rule out today, Charles, that he would be part of a Trump Cabinet.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: That sounded a little odd. I think the reason he got out today is this was the last day on which he could get off the ballot in South Carolina, the idea being that that if he were on the ballot he got a few percent, it could make a difference if he got out and left that space for someone like a Rubio or someone like a Christie who is closer to him.

Lindsey's problem was that he had a message that nobody wanted to hear. As you said, he's the only guy, everybody else is talking tough. Graham is the only guy who said we've got to put 20,000 Americans on the ground. We have to go in there and we have to clean this up. And that's a message we don't want to hear, American people don't want to hear.

Now, they may hear it in a year, and there's some support for that if you look in the polls after Paris, after the events in San Bernardino. But he was too far out there too early on that and I think as a result of that he never got a hearing.

But to his credit, he's a principles guy. He knew that. That was the reason he got in. Remember in the first debate where he was sort of like the voice of death? He was very, very, let me say, negative and somber, to put it nicely. But his only answer to every question was we have to do something about ISIS. There is a conviction candidate who was just slightly out of time. But I think getting out of the race, slightly narrowing the field, is going to give something of a boost to one of the other final challengers.

HAYES: If I can entertain another possibility, too. It could have the effect of doing the opposite, right? In this political environment, a blessing by Lindsey Graham and John McCain, we saw what happened to Donald Trump after he mocked John McCain for being a war hero. His numbers went up. Lindsey Graham was a member of the gang of eight. Is that really the kind of endorsement you want in this political environment?

I think if you ask most candidates, they would rather have it than not, but at the same time people wanting to push back on the establishment, that's the establishment.

KRAUTHAMMER: I don't think he endorses and I don't think his endorsement would help. I think he's simply creating space and other people would occupy it, probably non-Donald Trump.

BREAM: All right, speaking of Donald Trump, he is the only GOP name that came up in the Democratic debate on Saturday night. And yes, I watched the whole thing. So I want to play a little bit of what Hillary Clinton had to say, accusing Donald Trump of helping ISIS in a way, and his response.


HILLARY CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.


DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will demand an apology from Hillary, OK? You can be the messenger. I will demand an apology from Hillary. She should apologize. Whether it's Whitewater or the e-mail scandal, she always lies. And now to be saying we're just right in the perfect spot with respect to ISIS, I don't think that's a lie. I really don't think she knows what she's doing.


BREAM: OK, there was an immediate fact check where people, you know, organizations said they couldn't find any evidence that any videos of Donald Trump were being used. But as far as that call for an apology, Mrs. Clinton's Press Secretary Brian Fallon said, quote, "Hell, no, Hillary Clinton will not be apologizing to Donald Trump for correctly pointing out how his hateful rhetoric only helps ISIS recruit more terrorists." A.B.?

STODDARD: Well, Hillary Clinton makes stuff up. This is a well-documented pattern of hers. There were no classified e-mails, all the work emails were turned over, she was under sniper fire in Bosnia, there was a move in the country during the Defensive of Marriage Act to actually ban same-sex marriage as a constitutional amendment. That wasn't true. That's why they had to sign the Defense of Marriage Act. There is a long, long list. The list is so long I can't remember it.

So it's great for Donald Trump to put Jeb Bush in a position where he and the others in the Republican field are defending Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton's made-up story, but this is on the day that Donald Trump receives the PolitiFact Lie of the Year on his own story where he can't produce a video for something he said. So it's kind of amusing.

KRAUTHAMMER: And it wasn't only a lie. It was a particular lie on the part of Hillary. Given her history, she ought to be a little careful talking about incendiary American videos that are radicalizing jihadists into attacking Americans. She has to have been there before. It's not working. I think she ought to quit at two.

HAYES: There's an important point here to be made. Jennifer Palmieri, one of Hillary's spokeswomen, couldn't identify this video that Hillary was talking about and seemed sort of surprised to even be asked about this by the mainstream media and couldn't produce it, but yet Brian Fallon and others said she's not going to apologize for it. If the video doesn't exist, she made a specific claim. She should apologize to Donald Trump if she is, in fact, telling a lie.

BREAM: Something tells me he's going to keep asking.

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