Perhaps the more interesting question concerns what motivated this trial balloon in the (very hawkish) Weekly Standard. The article included a quote from Graham about another 2016 contender, Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Graham said, “We don’t need another young guy not quite ready.”
Bernstein guesses that this may be meant to signal that Republican hawks aren’t satisfied with Rubio yet, or that it is a way to goad other possible candidates to adopt even more hawkish positions. That could be, but I’m not sure that this is the right way to understand Graham’s sniping at Rubio or the inclusion of those remarks in the story. After all, the real problem Graham had with Rubio was that he had backed off from his earlier support for the Senate immigration bill last year. He thinks Rubio is “so afraid of the right,” and that reflects the “centrist” concern that Rubio has been too willing to yield in the face of conservative attacks. It doesn’t follow that Graham’s view is a widely shared one in the GOP. Rubio’s real political problem inside the GOP isn’t that he’s too “afraid of the right,” but that he was so oblivious to conservative views on immigration–or too overconfident in his ability to woo conservatives on this issue–that he didn’t understand that he would face a backlash in the first place. Rubio’s weakness isn’t that he pays too much attention to what conservatives want, but that he neglects what his own core supporters believe until it blows up in his face.
I wouldn’t read much into the inclusion of Graham’s mild criticism, which Graham has since tried to withdraw. The bulk of the Weekly Standard article is focused on building Rubio up as the Great Hawkish Hope, which is consistent with the efforts of their editors to over-promote Rubio at every turn for the last four years. The section on Graham felt tacked on, and I suspect it wasn’t intended to be the part of the article that mattered. The bad news for Rubio is that his desire to be known as a hawk’s hawk is so tired and uninteresting that even some ridiculous speculation about a Lindsey Graham campaign was considered more newsworthy.