Lindsey Graham shines at undercard debate

CNN —  

The Lindsey Graham show turned up in Simi Valley, California, during tonight’s CNN Republican presidential debate.

After a flat performance in August at the first GOP debate, the South Carolina senator lit up the crowd at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library during CNN’s undercard debate, lashing his opponents with sharp barbs and dropping zingers that brought roars of approval.

“That’s the first thing I’m going to do as president: We’re going to drink more,” he said.

Graham also trashed Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton in eyebrow-raising terms.

Most awkward moments from the debate

“Where the hell were you” during the Benghazi, Libya, attacks, Graham fumed when he was asked about his past praise for Clinton.

The performance quickly earned Graham praise on social media, in much the same way Carly Fiorina impressed the audience during last month’s debate.

He was no more charitable with some of his Republican rivals, saying he was “sick of hearing” fellow Sen. Ted Cruz calling for defunding Obamacare while President Barack Obama was in office and certain to veto such legislation.

He ridiculed Donald Trump as “a cartoon character” who gets his foreign policy from the Cartoon Network.

Debate reactions captured in GIFs

And he even took digs – repeatedly – at fellow second-tier candidates, including former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

“I don’t remember the Santorum plan when I was in the Senate,” Graham said, referring to Santorum’s immigration plan.

“We need to win – we need to win fighting for Americans. We need to win fighting for the workers in this country,” said Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator.

“In my world, Hispanics are Americans.”

Whether his sharp tongue will help boost his chances is far from certain. But it could give at least a small lift to the South Carolina Republican, who has won three terms in the Senate in no small part due to his folksy campaign style.

6 takeaways from the debate

Graham, who has championed comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, brought the crowd to roars when he said: “Strom Thurmond had four kids after age 67. If you’re not willing to do that, we need to come up with a new immigration system.”