The Real Reason McCain-Graham Attacked Ted Cruz

Anything involving junior Texas Senator Ted Cruz is likely to invoke some level of toxic response from Senator John McCain of Arizona and his secondary outlet of public communication, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

That Senator McCain harbors a grudge against “the Bushies” for the South Carolina primary defeat that ended his presidential run in 2000 is the worst kept secret in Washington. Having “his” candidate lose in his home state was also a blow to Graham. Known for his long memory, some Senate staffers joke the “R” behind McCain’s name is for “revenge.” Other quip Lindsey Graham is “the senator from McCain.”

You’d think they’d be over it, but never has their ax grinding against former George W. Bush allies been more obvious and counter-productive than over the last few months.

Ted Cruz was a key Bush campaign staffer in 2000. Primarily a legal advisor, he also provided domestic policy advice and served as a contact for movement conservatives. A brilliant legal mind, Cruz was a critical asset to Bush’s Florida recount team. Ted was well-liked and respected among campaign staff, and like Karl Rove, known to perform congressional district voter math in his head.

Including, no doubt, for the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary.

The phrase “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog” attributed to President Harry S. Truman remains true, but the Senate has spawned genuine friendships. Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar and Vermont’s liberal Democrat Patrick Leahy enjoy a long friendship despite ideological differences. The late Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) were vastly different in temperament and voting but each considered the other a brother.

The friendship between John McCain and Lindsey Graham started during the1999 Clinton impeachment hearings when Graham served on the House Judiciary Committee and was liaison to the Senate. They hit it off immediately, and developed a deep, personal friendship.

That they support each other through re-election campaigns, Senate policy battles, and any private challenges is laudable. That McCain seems to use Graham as a battering ram against people he does not like is not.

In 2001, former presidential candidate McCain’s refusal to fully support President Bush’s tax reform package led to only temporary tax cuts, which in turn contributed to the fiscal cliff. This put McCain at loggerheads with American taxpayers’ most powerful advocate, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, author of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Norquist also supported Bush in 2000, and worked closely with the Bush White House to support its tax cut agenda.

When fears arose during recent fiscal cliff negotiations that Senate Republicans might raise taxes, Senate insiders muttered McCain was privately giddy over the possibility of GOP pledge-breakers, but it was Graham thrown in front to lead Republicans over the pledge-violation cliff.

In January, Senator McCain aggressively grilled retired Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) during Hagel’s Defense secretary confirmation hearings. Formerly close, the friendship ended when Hagel refused to endorse McCain for president in 2008. McCain asked excellent questions -- hard-hitting and appropriate. When Hagel could not answer, McCain was openly hostile.

That weekend, McCain and Graham hit the Sunday talk show circuit expressing justifiable concern about Hagel's qualifications for the job. But when Senator Cruz later asked Hagel equally hard-hitting questions in an Armed Services Committee meeting, McCain and Graham publicly raked him over the coals for being too tough on Hagel.

This left Beltway insiders and regular folk scratching their heads. Unless, of course, they remembered Cruz’s Bush association.

An energetic, principled Republican triumvirate has emerged quickly in the newest Senate as Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Cruz consolidate conservative energy without the intrigue, backstabbing, and looting of the Imperial treasury that so hampered Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey.

Spawned by John Brennan’s role as Obama counterterrorism chief in crafting policy on drones over the homeland, this week Senator Paul -- with the assistance of Cruz and Rubio -- filibustered Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. America was cheering from its living room. Facebook and Twitter were on fire. The three young senators delivered a thirteen-hour primer on Constitutional governance with grace, humor, and brilliance that rekindled hope in our future and interest in foundational American rights.

So naturally, Lindsey Graham appeared on the Senate floor the next morning with a ridiculous sign comparing Americans killed in the U.S. by al-Qaeda (2,958) vs. drones (0.) He and Senator McCain spent the day following cameras to explain the inspirational filibuster was “ill-informed” while telegraphing civil liberties are less important than delivering a comeuppance to usurpers Paul, Rubio -- and Cruz.

The GOP symbol is an elephant, and elephants never forget. But when a bull’s memories cause harm to fellow elephants, it's time to move on and let the next generation assume leadership of the herd.