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Lindsey Graham endorses Jeb Bush. Does that matter? (+video)

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Nati Harnik/AP/File

(Read caption) Former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R) of South Carolina, endorsed Jeb Bush Friday for the Republican nomination.

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Lindsey Graham is endorsing Jeb Bush. The former presidential hopeful and South Carolina senator, who won plaudits for his candor and humor on the
trail but few voters, announced the move Friday in Charleston with Bush at his side.

“Jeb Bush is ready on day one to be a commander-in-chief ... He will put the country ahead of his party,” said Senator Graham at the announcement.

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OK. Is this “attaboy” going to matter?

Probably not, in the sense that Mr. Bush’s campaign is in dire straits and Graham’s support is unlikely to change that. Add Graham’s former supporters to those of Bush and you’re still in single digits, at least in national polls.

But there are some tactical reasons why the move makes sense. Graham is a reasonably popular South Carolina senator, and South Carolina comes up third in the primary season, right after Iowa and New Hampshire. At 8.5 percent in the RealClearPolitics rolling average of Palmetto State surveys, Bush is running a bit stronger there than he is in the US as a whole. An endorsement from the hawkish Graham could help Bush in a state with a large military presence.

If Bush could move up a few points, he has a chance of finishing third in South Carolina, behind Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, according to the way the numbers now stand. That might give him a reason to continue trudging onward in hopes of emerging as the final anti-Trump or anti-Cruz candidate, backed by the Republican establishment.

The larger context of Graham’s endorsement is that it is of a piece with his insistence that Trump and the other outsider candidates represent an existential threat to the Republican Party. When he was still in the race, he talked passionately about this belief.

In endorsing Bush, the most establishmentarian of all the GOP hopefuls, Graham will once again indicate that he’s mad as heck, and he’s not going to take it anymore. In that sense, the endorsement is a primal scream of the Republican elite.

“I believe Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party,” said Graham last December in front of a meeting of Jewish Republican donors. Endorsing Bush now, against all odds, with Trump and Cruz ascendant, is a way for Graham to continue to shake his fist at the stars.