I do not happen to subscribe to the view that South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is a "moderate" Republican.
For the most part, he casts a consistent right-wing vote — and on some national defense and civil liberties issues, he is to the right of the right.
But, if Graham is not moderate ideologically, he is at least moderate in his partisanship.
That explains his break with fellow Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of confirming Elena Kagan as the replacement for returning Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
"I believe this election has consequences," Graham explained Tuesday morning, in a dramatic announcement of his decision. " And this president chose someone who is qualified to serve on this court and understands the difference between being a liberal judge and a politician. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a hard decision … She would not have been someone I would have chosen, but the person who did choose, President Obama, chose wisely."
Graham even suggested that: "I think there’s a good reason for a conservative to vote yes."
His fellow conservatives disagreed. But that did not make Graham’s vote any less consequential, or worthy of note.
Ultimately, the committee split 13-6 on the question of whether to endorse President Obama’s nomination of his solicitor general to the high-court bench — with all the Democrats and Graham on the "yes" side, and all the other Republicans positioning as the party of "no."
That was not unexpected. Committee Democrats had for the most part offered indications of their support for Kagan — generally enthusiastically, even if Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter grumbled a bit (as he always and appropriately does) about the nominee’s lawyerly responses to questions posed by the assembled senators. And Republicans — including Graham — had evidenced discomfort with her during hearings on the nomination.
So the only real news Tuesfday was Graham’s decision to vote for a nominee his party — and its activist base — would prefer to keep off the court.
Why did he do it? Graham offered a credibly thoughful explanation.
"No one spent more time trying to beat President Obama than I did, except maybe Senator McCain," Graham explained. "But I understood we lost. President Obama won and I’ve got a lot of opportunity to disagree with him. But the Constitution in my view puts a requirement on me as a senator to not replace my judgment for his, not to think of the 100 reasons I would pick somebody differently, or pick a fight with Miss Kagan. It puts upon me a standard that stood the test of time, is the person qualified? Is it a person of good character? Are they someone that understands the difference between being a judge and a politician? And, quite frankly, I think she’s passed all those tests."