TIME Rand Paul

Rand Paul Proposes Boosting Defense Spending

Sen. Rand Paul Vaccine
Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call,Inc./Getty Images Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference on Jan. 27, 2015.

His amendment would add $76.5 billion to the defense budget

Just weeks before announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is completing an about-face on a longstanding pledge to curb the growth in defense spending.

In an olive branch to defense hawks hell-bent on curtailing his White House ambitions, the libertarian Senator introduced a budget amendment late Wednesday calling for a nearly $190 billion infusion to the defense budget over the next two years—a roughly 16 percent increase.

Paul’s amendment brings him in line with his likely presidential primary rivals, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who introduced a measure calling for nearly the same level of increases just days ago. The amendment was first noticed by TIME and later confirmed by Paul’s office.

The move completes a stunning reversal for Paul, who in May 2011, after just five months in office, released his own budget that would have eliminated four agencies—Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Education—while slashing the Pentagon, a sacred cow for many Republicans. Under Paul’s original proposal, defense spending would have dropped from $553 billion in the 2011 fiscal year to $542 billion in 2016. War funding would have plummeted from $159 billion to zero. He called it the “draw-down and restructuring of the Department of Defense.”

But under Paul’s new plan, the Pentagon will see its budget authority swell by $76.5 billion to $696,776,000,000 in fiscal year 2016.

The boost would be offset by a two-year combined $212 billion cut to funding for aid to foreign governments, climate change research and crippling reductions in to the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Education.

Paul’s endorsement of increased defense spending represents a change in direction for the first-term lawmaker, who rose to prominence with his critiques of the size of the defense budget and foreign aid, drawing charges of advocating isolationism. Under pressure from fellow lawmakers and well-heeled donors, Paul in recent months has appeared to embrace the hawkish rhetoric that has defined the GOP in recent decades. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February Paul warned of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “Without question, we must now defend ourselves and American interests,” he said. Asked about federal spending, he added, “for me, the priority is always national defense.”

The amendment was filed on the same day as House Republicans overwhelmingly supported a plan to alter their budget to give billions more to the Pentagon.

It’s not the first time that Paul has adjusted his position on a foreign policy matter to find greater appeal within his own party. Early in his Senate career, Paul advocated for the elimination of all aid to foreign governments, including Israel, but after criticism has since backtracked on that proposal.

Paul’s change-of-heart on the budget highlights the importance of the funding document to many likely presidential candidates. In addition to the increased defense spending, Rubio provided a roadmap to his all-but-certain presidential campaign, introducing over 25 amendments stating his desire to deliver weapons to Ukraine, create education tax credits, strengthen pro-life legislation, weaken collective bargaining agreements and ensure Medicare wouldn’t be “raided” by Obamacare.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is considering a presidential run, pointed to Rubio’s measure to increase defense spending as an example of how budget votes will impact the 2016 race. “That’s a great amendment,” says Graham, one of the Senate’s preeminent foreign policy hawks. “I think if you voted against Marco’s amendment you’d be probably on the outside of most people in the primary.”

Outside of Congress, other GOP presidential candidates have used the budget process to insulate themselves from tough political questions. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has relied on his outsider status to avoid commenting on everything from immigration to the gas tax. In New Hampshire earlier this month, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dodged a question on securing the border by pointing toward dysfunction in Washington.

“I think that Congress needs to pass a budget and put conservative priorities on the table,” he said at a house party. “And in that budget there are ways that you could show the opposition to the use of executive orders, and so I hope they do that, and I hope they fully fund the department of homeland security…because how else are we going to secure the border. This is the only way that we can do it.”

“I think we need to increase spending on defense and homeland security,” Bush added.

Read next: Why Rand Paul is Attacking Ted Cruz

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TIME 2016 Election

Clinton Jokes About Private Email and ‘Complicated’ Press Relationship

At a dinner honoring the winner of the Robin Toner Prize

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joked on Monday about her famously contentious relationship with the press and her private email account.

Just weeks before Clinton is set to make her 2016 presidential candidacy official, she appeared at dinner honoring longtime Washington Post correspondent Dan Balz, the winner of the Robin Toner Prize, an award from Syracuse University for political reporters.

“An evening with a room full of political reporters,” Clinton quipped after taking the stage, “I thought to myself, what could possibly go wrong?” In an understatement, she added, “My relationship with the press has been at times, shall we say, complicated.”

“I am all about new beginnings,” she said. “A new grandchild. A new hairstyle. A new email account. A new relationship with the press,” she added. “No more secrecy, no more zone of privacy … After all what good did that do for me?”

Clinton praised Toner, the former New York Times corespondent who covered her husband’s 1992 presidential campaign and died in 2008, saying that in a fractured and more ideological media environment, “We need more Robin Toners.”

“We rely even more on reporters to try to get us out of the echo chambers we all inhabit,” she said. “We need more than ever smart, fair-minded journalists.”

Clinton received a standing ovation from the journalist-heavy crowd.

TIME Congress

Koch Brothers Battle Against Export-Import Bank Heats Up Again

From Left: David Koch and Charles Koch
AP; Getty Images From Left: David Koch and Charles Koch

Business lobbyists won the last round, but conservative activists plan to up the pressure later this year

The conservative war over the Export-Import Bank is heating up again.

A federal lending arm of the U.S. government aimed at boosting exports with subsidized credit has long been a target of conservatives, who nearly prevented its reauthorization last year. Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a group backed by the Koch Brothers, is re-launching its effort Monday to end the bank when its charter expires at the end of June.

Backed by a six-figure digital ad buy, as well as efforts to organize a conservative coalition, the group is trying to put a stop to what it terms “cronyism and corporate welfare.” Already several Republican presidential candidates oppose its reauthorization, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, as well as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

“The Ex-Im Bank puts billions of taxpayer dollars at risk to subsidize some of the world’s largest, most well-connected companies at the expense of hard-working American taxpayers,” said Freedom Partners president Marc Short. “Congress should take a stand against corporate welfare and allow this bank to expire. The expiration of Ex-Im is a central focus of Freedom Partners and will be a key test for lawmakers who claim to want to tackle the big problems.”

But the bank maintains the support of much of the GOP’s establishment wing, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as many Democrats and the White House. Among other loan guarantees, the Ex-Im Bank has heavily subsidized the sale of Boeing aircraft overseas, which the company says helps it compete with Airbus, which is backed by several European governments.

The new Freedom Partners websitewww.eximexposed.org—includes shareable info-graphics highlighting controversial Ex-Im investments, as well as a roster of Republicans who have come out against reauthorizing the bank.

The bank’s charter was extended for nine months in September as part of a stop-gap funding measure for the federal government, but the absence of a shutdown threat could give Ex-Im critics more leverage in the coming months to overhaul or wind down the bank. And for Republican candidates who have yet to weigh in on the subject, the influence of billionaire GOP mega-donors will make support for the bank all the more difficult.

The Freedom Partners video:

TIME 2016 Election

GOP Donors Buoyant About 2016 Prospects at Retreat

Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Good news for the GOP, bad news for Hillary Clinton

Republican donors gathered at an exclusive retreat this weekend to compare notes on the 2016 presidential field and hear the candidates’ pitches directly.

The celebratory mood was palpable, buoyed by another strong fundraising month for the party, the impending launch of the primary contest and a spate of negative stories about Hillary Clinton.

Donors in custom pins designed by the party backslapped their way through the pinkish walls of the Waldorf Astoria Resort and Club, as many of the candidates they elected in 2014, and the ones they are hoping to elect in 2016 preened for their support. Sean Spicer, the RNC’s chief strategist and communications director, said it was the “largest pre-nomination retreat in terms of both donor attendance and speakers.”

Throughout the weekend, the presidential contenders held private meetings with the assembled donors, broken into classes like “Eagles” ($15,000+), “Regents” ($60,000+), and “Team 100” ($100,000+). New this year, thanks to congressional action dramatically increasing donation limits to national parties, were the members of the “RNC Trust,” who have pledged to give the more than $330,000 legal limit annually.

The lavish resort is nestled between a golf course and a marina and across a sound from the beach, though the 36-hour conference was jammed with sessions on party data and messaging. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus sought to leverage the celebrity and celebration to plug the more mundane mechanics, as party staffers held briefings on technology and field program advances in the GOP since 2012. Pollster Frank Luntz held court in a session and Republican senators held a closed-door panel where they laid into the emerging nuclear deal with Iran.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio delivered well-regarded remarks Friday evening, highlighting their domestic themes of growing the party and criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy. Each, attendees said, was interrupted by multiple rounds of applause. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker focused his remarks on the economy, delivering, like the others, a modified version of his stump speech for the well-heeled audience.

On Saturday evening, New Jersey Gov. Christie called on the party to avoid flip-floppers in a pre-dinner reception before joining the Team 100 dinner, along with a coterie of Republican members of Congress. Texas Gov. Rick Perry rotated among the class dinners, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addressed the post-dinner dessert. Former Sen. Rick Santorum and former New York Gov. George Pataki attended the weekend gathering, as well as businessman Donald Trump, who spoke Friday evening and, according to multiple attendees, spent much of his speech trying to show off his connections to the assembled donors.

Among the members of Congress in attendance for the weekend were Sens. Cory Gardner, Pat Roberts, Mike Rounds, Thom Tillis, David Perdue and Deb Fischer and Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Renee Elmers.

A large number of benefactors remain on the fence, according to party and campaign sources, using the meetings to grill candidates on the issues important to them. In the hallways, donors shared notes from their private meetings, gossiping about Walker’s flip-flop on immigration reform, the burdens of Bush’s family name and Christie’s narrowing path to the nomination.

One donor, who has pledged five-figure sums to groups affiliated with at least three GOP candidates, said he and many of his peers believe it’s still a wide-open field.

“You want to get in on the ground floor,” said the donor, who didn’t want his name used to avoid attracting more suitors, “and so many of these guys can go all the way.”

TIME 2016 Election

Exclusive: Chris Christie Warns GOP Against Flip-Floppers

New Jersey Governor Christie speaks while being interviewed onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Maryland
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks while being interviewed onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Md. on Feb. 26, 2015.

The New Jersey governor reasserts himself in Republican presidential race after a slow start with a veiled criticism of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

BOCA RATON, FLA. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie warned the Republican Party’s top donors Saturday against backing a candidate who flip-flops on important issues.

Addressing a harbor-side reception Saturday at an exclusive retreat for donors to the Republican National Committee, the Garden State governor appeared to criticize Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, without mentioning him by name, for adjusting his positions to curry favor with early state voters.

“We need to make sure that we make our party bigger and broader than it’s been before,” Christie told a sunset gathering of about 250 donors who have given more than $15,000—and as much as $330,000—to the GOP. “And that’s not about pandering, it’s not about flip-flopping on issues.” Walker stood a few dozen feet away mingling with the well-heeled crowd. “People want folks who they believe believe in what they say and don’t change depending on what state they’re in,” Christie continued.

Walker, who has surged in the early polls at the expense of Christie, has come under fire for changing his position on immigration reform, as well as other issues, in a bid to appeal to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Last week, Walker denied being a flip-flopper on immigration, saying he was simply listening to the will of the people. Both Christie and Walker have backed away from their previous support of the Common Core education standards.

Christie, who is seeking to reassert his influence within the presidential field, said voters instead want politicians who will tell them the truth. “The fact is you don’t have to change your positions,” he continued. “I’m proudly pro-life and I’ve run twice as a pro-life candidate for governor in one of the bluest states in the country.” During his 2014 re-election campaign, Walker ran an ad announcing that despite his own pro-life beliefs he supported a an ultrasound bill that “leaves the final decision” of an abortion “to the woman and her doctor.”

Christie took another veiled shot at Walker, who has boasted in recent months that he succeeded as a Republican in a state that has voted for Democratic presidential candidates since 1984. Christie pointed out that the state of New Jersey also had deep Democratic roots. “There will be other states who will try to compete with us,” Christie said, “but I’ll just give you one statistic, we have not elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 42 years. It is the longest streak of any state in the country.”

Also in attendance at the reception were former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and a host of members of Congress who won election in 2014.

Christie opened with a critique of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, saying French concerns about the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran highlight Obama’s failures. “America is less respected, less feared, and less effective than we’ve been at any time in recent history,” Christie said. “We know that that’s all the result of the fact that the President of the United States doesn’t know how to lead, has never understood how to lead, never understood strength.”

Referencing the RNC’s focus on data in the run-up to the presidential election, Christie said no amount of data could correct for a bad candidate. “The fact is our focus needs to be who is going to connect with the American people and all the American people, not just the one’s we’re used to connecting with,” he said.

Noting his efforts to reach out to Hispanic and Black communities in New Jersey during his re-election, Christie called on Republicans to make a more concerted effort to listen to those who traditionally vote for Democrats. “We need to start listening and showing respect to those constituencies that we want to have part of our team,” he told donors.

Christie also called on the party to show its humorous side, saying the party needs to show voters a path toward bettering their pursuit of happiness, and not just life and liberty. “We should have some fun too,” he said.

TIME 2016 Election

Old Tweets Prove Dangerous for 2016 Campaign Staffers

Governor Scott Walker Speaks at CPAC
Ron Sachs—Corbis Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 26, 2015.

Tweet at your own risk

Old tweets are the new paper trail. As the 2016 presidential race gets underway, a number of newly hired staffers have lost their jobs for things they once wrote on Twitter.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential effort announced Monday the hiring of Liz Mair, a veteran digital operative and Walker alumnus. Barely 36 hours later, she was out of a job, resigning amid a firestorm over old tweets critical of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Jim Dornan, an operative backing neurosurgeon Ben Carson was caught by BuzzFeed Tuesday using a pseudonymous Twitter account to make crude attacks on Democrats and some Republicans. And last month Ethan Czahor resigned within days of being hired as Jeb Bush’s chief technology officer after reporters and Democratic operatives dug up old racist tweets and blog posts.

The Mair and Czahor cases are little more than political malpractice: the campaigns didn’t fully vet their new hires, leaving them surprised when past comments surfaced.

But they are part of a pattern bound to be repeated this cycle and for years to come, as opposition researchers retrace staffers’ social media trail to turn inartful comments against their bosses. In the past, the personal thoughts of mid-level campaign staff rarely raised an eyebrow, but then that was back in the days when people didn’t record those thoughts on a public forum like Twitter.

Now the danger, and opportunity, of turning up embarrassing details on operatives is reshaping how campaigns approach their jobs. Campaign research is largely divided into two spheres: offensive—digging up dirt on the opposition—and defensive, making sure your own house is in order. The former has gotten easier, and, according to operatives in both parties, the latter is now far more difficult.

“Unfortunately due to social media, there has been a proliferation in red flags on potential hires,” said one prominent Republican researcher. “Old opinions expressed on social media become important in a new context. The challenge is then do you hire that person or not. All of it is subjective.”

In the Mair and Czahor cases, veteran operatives believe the Bush and Walker campaigns fell into a familiar trap: assuming their senior hires didn’t need to be vetted. Democratic opposition researchers first surfaced Czahor’s tweets, and were also behind Mair’s downfall, flagging her comments to the Des Moines Register.

“When you’re considering an operative who has a long media trail, whether that means extended Twitter-fights or some controversial commentary that has earned them some prominent enemies, well then you should do a thorough vet,” said one senior veteran of GOP campaigns. “You and your candidate have to know what you’re getting into. Some operatives are worth that battle. Some aren’t.”

“It just shows a basic lack of due diligence,” said Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean, the Director of Research for President Obama’s 2012 campaign. “An even cursory review of the Twitter feeds of one’s potential CTO or digital strategist should be standard operating procedure.”

But in 2016, the same traits that can make staffers attractive—such as a knack for fighting partisan battles on social media—are the very ones that can make them liabilities. Operatives who grew up in the age of social media often think nothing of tossing off a snarky remark or two, and that reputation can help them foster relationships with reporters and fellow operatives. But those same comments can later be held against their bosses.

In Mair’s case, her outspoken support for immigration reform and same-sex marriage put her at odds with Walker on issues sensitive with the GOP base, such as the value of the Iowa cacauses and need for immigration reform, where the candidate has acknowledged changing his position. Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann called on Walker to fire Mair. (Iowa is a critical state for Walker, as he is depending on a win there next year to vault him to the Republican nomination.)

But Mair is unlikely to be the last operative to face a career stumble because of social media. The open question is how far down the campaign pecking order the social media threat will travel. Democratic researcher Greg Scanlon described checking public available social media posts and public records on Nexis for senior staff and consultant hires, but not lower-level employees. “Generally it’s way too time-consuming to run the traps on anyone more junior than that—at a certain point I think you just have to rely on the good judgment you’re hopefully hiring them for in the first place and make it clear they’ll be held accountable for anything that crosses a line,” he said.

“From an opposition standpoint, of course, it’s also tough to get much traction when a 22-year-old field organizer tweets something stupid unless it’s particularly egregious and/or a slow news day, so it’s usually much lower-risk anyway,” he added.

Privately, some Democratic operatives regret furthering placing staffers in the crosshairs. “We try to be careful, but sometimes we say things we wish we hadn’t, too.”

Eventually as more staffers—and candidates—grow up in the social media generation, there may be a tipping point where it’s no longer a firing offense. Until then, starry-eyed young political operatives should post a note on their iPhones: Tweet at your own risk.

TIME 2016 Election

Ben Carson Traces ISIS to the Book of Genesis

Conservatives Gather For Annual CPAC Convention
Alex Wong—Getty Images Ben Carson addresses the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference on February 26, 2015 in National Harbor, Maryland.

He cited the story of Jacob and Esau

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Wednesday that the roots of radical Islam are the biblical conflict between Jacob and Esau.

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, the former pediatric neurosurgeon argued that the origins of groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are the fight between two brothers described in the book of Genesis.

“Well first of all you have to recognize they go back thousands and thousands of years. Really back to the battle between Jacob and Esau,” he said. “But it has been a land issue for a very long period of time.”

Hewitt, who has a penchant for grilling Republican candidates in detail about foreign policy, pushed back at the comparison, noting that the prophet Muhammad died in 632, while the story of Jacob and Esau is from before the birth of Christ.

“The Islamic faith emanated from Esau,” Carson countered.

Another set of siblings described in the book of Genesis — Isaac and Ishmael — are more frequently described as the respective forefathers of Judaism and Islam.

Carson also said that he thinks the warring factions of Sunni and Shia Islam will one day unite against the United States.

“In the long run I think they would gladly unite against us in their attempts to destroy the United States., our way of life, and Israel,” Carson said, espousing a position viewed dimly by foreign policy experts.

Carson’s White House bid stems largely from his public speaking ability and willingness to challenge President Obama on the Affordable Care Act at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. But he has a long history of controversial statements, being forced earlier this month to apologize for saying homosexuality is a choice and that prison makes people gay.

But his support is already eroding as other presidential contenders enter the field.

Here’s a transcript of Carson and Hewitt discussing ISIS and Islamic extremism:

Hewitt: I don’t do ambush interviews, but I do believe that the most important job of the president is national security and defense related. Are you prepared to talk about some of those issues with me today?

Carson: Absolutely.

Hewitt: First question, and I always ask every candidate. Have you had a chance to read the Lawrence Wright book called The Looming Tower, which is sort of the history of al Qaeda and where it comes from?

Carson: I’ve not read that particular one, but I’ve had a chance to look at a lot of material not only on al Qaeda but the radical Islamic movement in general. The kinds of things that motivate and drive them.

Hewitt: What do you consider to be their taproot? What is the origin of their rage in your view?

Carson: Well first of all you have to recognize they go back thousands and thousands of years. Really back to the battle between Jacob and Esau. But it has been a land issue for a very long period of time. Possession is very important to them and one of the things that we’re doing I think incorrectly right now is not recognizing that they are expanding their territory. Not only the land that they’ve taken in Iraq, but what they’ve taken in Syria. They are creating an Islamic State. And we can bomb it all we want, but unless we actually can take the land back, we’re really not doing them any damage.

Hewitt: But Dr. Carson, Muhammad lives in 632 A.D., so it’s a 1,300, 1,400 year old religion. How do you go back to Jacob and Esau, which are B.C.?

Carson: I’m just saying that the conflict has been ongoing for thousands of years. This is not anything new is what I’m saying.

Hewitt: So it’s not specific to the Islamic faith or to the Salafist offshoot of the Islamic faith?

Carson: The Islamic faith emanated from Esau.

Hewitt: I would date it to 632, but you’ve got a biblical connection here that some people may share with you, but I think scholars dispute. I gather that. Let me ask you though in the current manifestation of the Islamic State, what is driving them to act as they are acting? Is it a particular variant of the Koran? What is it that you think animates their barbarism?

Carson: I believe first of all that they believe that they are the possessors of right and because of that anything that is in disagreement with them is wrong and needs to be destroyed. And whatever mechanism they use to destroy it is okay. And that includes some of the things that appear to be very barbaric acts: chopping off people’s heads, burning them. It doesn’t matter because they are infidels.

TIME 2016 Election

Democrats On Trump: ‘Everything Is Awesome’

Lego Movie
Warner Bros. The Lego Movie

The Democratic National Committee could hardly contain its excitement Wednesday amid news that reality television star Donald Trump has launched a presidential exploratory committee.

Holly Shulman, the DNC press secretary, issued a brief video statement summing up the party’s position on Trump’s entrance into the race:

For those who haven’t seen it, that’s the Oscar-nominated song “Everything is Awesome” from last year’s “The Lego Movie.”

The DNC statement followed with links to some of Trump’s most controversial statements, including his continued questioning of the place of President Obama’s birth, opposition to immigration reform and blaming military sexual assaults on allowing women to serve alongside men.

While Democrats are laughing, the GOP is fretting about Trump’s ability to seize the spotlight with outlandish comments. His announcement comes on the two-year anniversary of the Republican Party’s 2012 autopsy which encouraged the GOP to project a more welcoming face to voters.

TIME 2016 Election

The Dark Horse Who Could Upset the First Southern Primary

Presidential Hopefuls Address International Association Of Fire Fighters Forum
Alex Wong—Getty Images Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks during the 2015 Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington, DC. on March 10, 2015.

Dr. Edward Floyd, a prestigious South Carolina vascular surgeon, goes way back with the most powerful family in Republican politics.

Both Bush Presidents and former First Lady Laura Bush have stopped by his South Carolina home during various campaigns over the past two decades. Former President George W. Bush appointed him as a delegate to the U.N. General Assembly. And as a member of the South Carolina University board of trustees, Floyd lobbied to get former Florida governor Jeb Bush an honorary degree at the school in December.

But Floyd says he just can’t endorse Jeb Bush in his coming presidential run. That’s because Floyd is committed to his home-state’s favorite son, Senator Lindsey Graham, whose White House ambitions, while seemingly quixotic, may upend the race in the nation’s third primary state. “It’s a little personal with me,” Floyd told TIME, explaining his reasons. More than a decade ago, Graham helped arrange what few other politicians could: visas to Russia for his daughter and son-in-law, who wanted to adopt a child from a St. Petersburg orphanage.

Such stories are not hard to find in South Carolina these days, where Graham’s deep ties to the state party still hold enormous sway. As Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker visit the “first in the South” primary state this week, they will encounter many faces like Floyd’s: friendly, but not up for grabs. “Senator Graham has frozen people who otherwise might be inclined to support Bush,” said one top South Carolina GOP operative. “They’re not making direct asks for money … they’re here saying, ‘Hey, we want to be your second choice after Senator Graham.’”

“They’re friend-raising and not fundraising,” the operative added.

Graham, a foreign policy hawk, is unlikely to clear the Palmetto State’s field like Senator Tom Harkin’s Iowa campaign for President did in 1992. But fresh off a 2014 re-election that he won by a 15.5 percentage-point margin, Graham has become one of 2016’s biggest wild cards — a dark-horse candidate whose decisions will determine not just his own fate, but also potentially the outcome of the GOP race.

In Iowa earlier this month, Graham stole the spotlight with witty rejoinders on the need for immigration and entitlement reforms and zingers sending up the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. From there he flew to New Hampshire, where Graham hopes to rekindle the “straight talk” that turned the Granite State into his friend John McCain’s political Avalon. He’s buoyed by the likes of billionaire GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson for his opposition to online gaming and strong support for Israel and drew a half-dozen GOP Senators to a fundraiser for his PAC tied to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress.

Though few nationally or in his home state believe Graham will truly stick it out, he’s poised to play kingmaker or spoiler, and maybe assassin.

Graham’s candidacy could have the biggest impact on Senator Rand Paul’s presidential run — a vehicle for the South Carolinian to attempt to torpedo the more isolationist lawmaker’s ambitions. He’s also sparred with Senator Ted Cruz, another hopeful with whom he rarely sees eye to eye and whose tactics he’s condemned. Critics call him a stalking horse for the establishment, picking a fight with the party’s extreme to provide a favored candidate — like Bush — with political cover.

Graham’s strong advocacy of comprehensive immigration reform makes Bush a likely beneficiary of his support, but many candidates are seeking to remain on Graham’s good side. (Rand and Cruz are some of the few 2016-ers to have even announced hires in South Carolina, bringing on veteran strategist Chris LaCivita and former GOP Spartanburg county chairwoman LaDonna Ryggs, respectively, to advise campaigns in Graham’s home state.)

In New Hampshire last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry called Graham “my buddy.” “I am a big Lindsey Graham fan,” he was caught saying on an open microphone, adding he seeks out Graham’s counsel on foreign policy. “I think he is one of the most knowledgeable people that we have on foreign policy, and we need to listen to him. He is a very, very bright U.S. Senator. He’s carved out his niche, and it is foreign policy.”

Graham’s cache of supporters are loyal, but they’re hardly a majority in his home state. The South Carolina Republican Party put him on its online presidential straw poll — featuring uninterested politicians such as Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Tim Scott — only last week. And 60.2% of South Carolinians and more than 55% of Republican-leaning voters don’t think he should run for President.

“I wouldn’t say there is a predisposition to automatically supporting Lindsey Graham for President,” said Charleston-based GOP consultant Jim Dyke. “I think that every election is different and people judge you by the job that you’re running for.”

If the 34% of GOP leaners supportive of Graham running break his way, it’s a surefire victory in a jam-packed field. But even a 5% draw — an easy feat — could be determinative.

“It’s hard enough to see Jeb Bush winning South Carolina, and with Graham in the race it’s just about impossible,” said another veteran national strategist. “And he pulls the business and military votes that Walker might need to hold off a Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.”

The social conservative state’s electorate is notoriously fickle. In 2000, then Texas governor George W. Bush won the state after a nasty primary fight with McCain. But in 2008, McCain eked out a victory over Iowa victor former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee with Graham’s assistance. In 2012 they rallied just days before the primary to Newt Gingrich’s defense on the heels of salacious reporting about the collapse of his second marriage, which he turned into a high-profile critique of the “gotcha” press.

The divided loyalties between Jeb Bush and Graham even extend to the ranks of Graham’s own campaign. His exploratory committee, Security Through Strength, is run by David Wilkins, a U.S. ambassador to Canada under President George W. Bush. Wilkins, who chaired Bush 43’s 2000 and 2004 South Carolina campaigns, says he would support Jeb if it weren’t for Graham, a friend for over 23 years, dating back to when they served in the South Carolina House of Representatives in the early 1990s.

“I don’t know of anyone that’s better versed in foreign policy and really knows more about it than Lindsey Graham,” adds Wilkins. “He knows the world leaders, he’s traveled the world, he’s been to the hot spots. He’s just immersed himself in that issue. I don’t know anyone more knowledgeable than him.”

It’s those kinds of personal testimonials that could shake up the South Carolina primary, and by extension the rest of the Republican primary calendar in 2016.


TIME 2016 Election

Jindal Calls on Congress to Increase Defense Spending

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 26, 2015.
Ron Sachs—dpa/Corbis Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 26, 2015.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will push for an increase in military spending, setting up a contrast with two other likely Republican presidential contenders who have criticized the defense budget.

In remarks at the American Action Forum, Jindal will call on Congress to support an increase in the Pentagon budget, building off a policy white paper he released last year.

“[We] cannot afford to not increase defense spending,” Jindal will say according to prepared remarks. “It’s literally the most crucial spending decision for our country. It’s not optional. It shouldn’t really even be up for discussion.”

The focus on defense spending could be read as a veiled swing at Sen. Rand Paul, who has been sharply critical of the rise in defense spending over the last 15 years, and at Sen. Ted Cruz, who has criticized pork in the defense budget. It also turns up the heat on an internally divided GOP-controlled Congress to pass a budget.

“The smart position for anyone who is concerned about the long-term health of our country,” Jindal will say about defense spending.

In a nod to fiscal hawks, Jindal will call for “corresponding cuts” to non-defense areas of the budget, while declaring President Obama’s new free community college plan and the Affordable Care Act unaffordable.

“This point goes back to Gov. Jindal making the case that if someone wants to run for President, be on that debate stage, and be in that office, they need to think through what they will do as President,” a Jindal advisor told TIME.

Jindal is languishing in national and early-state polls, but he hopes that his policy focus will help him stand out in a crowded presidential field. He joins former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in pressuring Republicans in Congress to use their majority to push GOP priorities.

“Republicans need to start showing that we can govern and lead,” Bush said in New Hampshire Friday, calling on lawmakers to produce a budget that adequately funds border security.

Excerpts of Jindal’s prepared remarks are below:

Congress is debating the first budget since we took over both houses and it is essential that the leaders of our Party come together behind one clear priority: national defense.

I’m calling on all Republicans in Congress and any Republican thinking about running for President to support an increase in defense spending in this budget, and corresponding cuts in non-defense spending.

This is where we need to be as a country. This is the smart position for anyone who is concerned about the long term health of our country. It takes time to build ships and planes by the way.

Obama has hollowed out our military, I wrote a paper with Jim Talent on this that I would encourage everyone to read – it calls for significantly increasing the amount we spend on defense.

I realize that there are some in our ranks who do not believe that we should increase defense spending, and do not think we can afford it.

The truth is that President Obama has doubled our national debt from 10.6 trillion to 18.1 trillion. So, strictly speaking, we cannot afford ANYTHING at all.

We cannot afford to provide free community college, free phones, a new massive government entitlement called Obamacare, we cannot afford this President.

But we also cannot afford to NOT increase defense spending. It’s literally the most crucial spending decision for our country. It’s not optional. It shouldn’t really even be up for discussion.

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