In April, former Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (PA) switched his party affiliation to caucus with the Democrats after being targeted by right-wing activists and others within the GOP. Shortly before his departure, an anti-Obama tea party rally focused its attention at Specter, hate radio host Rush Limbaugh demanded that Specter be “flushed” out of the party. A campaign with the theme “Benedict Arnold” subsequently harassed Specter for voting for the stimulus.
Now, after voting to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and expressing a willingness to build a compromise approach to clean energy legislation, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appears to be the new target of tea party activists. At a Graham town hall in Greenville yesterday, activist Harry Kimball of “RINO HUNT” protested by constructing a display that depicted Graham, as well as moderates like Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), being flushed down a toilet:
KIMBALL: This is for every RINO who has failed to represent us. [...] [the toilet represents] flushing them, flushing them.
One attendee of the event asked the senator, “when are you going to announce that you are switching parties?” The question drew loud applause from the crowd. Graham defended himself, and denounced the influence of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) on the Republican party:
GRAHAM: I’m going to grow this party, I’m not going to let it get [inaudible], I’m not going to let it be hijacked by Ron Paul. [...] I’m going to find people in Maine, Delaware, Illinois, other places–
AUDIENCE: Move there!
GRAHAM: That can win as Republicans, and I’m going to go up, and we’re going to move this party, and this country forward, and if you don’t like it, you can leave.
Angry attendees in the crowd interrupted Graham with cries of, “You’re a country club Republican,” “Sotomayor!,” and “You lie.” Outside the event, right-wing activist Julliet Kozak picketed the town hall with a sign decrying all “Unconstitutional Anti-Christ Socialist Federal Deficit Spending Programs.” She explained that she opposes what Graham is “doing in our Congress, what he’s doing to our country.”
Graham’s fellow South Carolina senator Jim DeMint (R) was an outspoken proponent of ejecting Specter from the Republican Party. DeMint told a conservative blogger Specter “cut our knees from under us.” He added that conservatives in the Senate need to aggressively “go after” Specter and other GOP moderates.
According to the newspaper The State, Graham repeatedly responded to those who accused him of being a “traitor” to “chill out.” One man told Graham he had “betrayed” conservatism and made a “pact with the devil” by working with Democrats.
“We’re not going to be the party of angry white guys,” Graham said to even more shouts. Some people walked out during Graham’s speech after he told them, “if you don’t like it, you can leave.”
,Brad Johnson rounds up the conservative blogosphere’s reaction to Graham.