Sen. Lindsey Graham may face a tea party challenge back home, but he's not shying away from blasting the strategy of fellow GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah — and he had some choice words for any Republican or Democrat who causes a government shutdown.
"If the government shuts down, it's not what you think it would be. I have actually experienced that," Graham said. "If anybody creates a process where our military doesn't get paid, and their families, they're going to make an enemy ... of me for life."
He added that he was prepared to do what he could to keep the shutdown from taking place.
"I will do everything in my power to make sure that our men and women in uniform, and our law enforcement officers and intelligence community who's fighting a war while we argue among ourselves get paid," Graham said.
As for Cruz and Lee, Graham took issue with their rhetoric in this week's debate over whether to filibuster the House-passed continuing resolution.
"They said some things about, about our colleagues that I just think are really out of line," the South Carolina Republican said of Cruz and Lee following a series of votes that led to passage of a "clean" stopgap spending measure that would keep the government open past Monday.
"At the end of the day, they've got to decide what kind of role they want to play. I've got to decide what kind of role I want to play to grow the Republican party and to save the country," Graham said.
"You know, Strom Thurmond gave me some pretty good advice: don't question another senator's motive," Graham said. "That's pretty good."
Graham, who holds the seat Thurmond previously occupied, differed from the tactics favored by Cruz and Lee, who pushed colleagues to filibuster on the CR to prevent Democrats from adopting an amendment stripping Obamacare defunding language. Graham supported the debate-limiting cloture motion but opposed the amendment to keep the health care law funded and the final measure.
"I thought the choice of making Democrats strip out defunding Obamacare was a really good approach to show the differences between the parties, but the idea that the Senate Republicans would shut the government down until everybody bent to our will never made a whole lot of sense to me," Graham said.
Asked if he had any concerns that vocal opposition to the two senators could generate campaign ads against him from third-party groups, Graham went further.
"I'm trying to grow the party, I'm not trying to purify the party. I want the party to be bigger, not smaller. At the end of the day, there are groups who are focused on beating Republicans, not focused on winning over Democrats on a bill [to] replace Obamacare," Graham said. "This is a free country. I just think that is not a wise choice, and for people in the Northeast and other places, this whole sort of slash-and-burn approach is not going to play well."
Graham even said that he didn't worry about being called not conservative enough by outside groups.
"I'm a conservative by any reasonable definition: socially, economically. There's no stronger voice for the military than myself, and I think conservatism sells, and I'm not going to let anybody say I'm not conservative, 'cause I've got a voting record to prove it," Graham said.