When a runaway hot-air balloon reportedly carrying a six-year-old boy made headlines last month, many were surprised to find out it had all been a hoax. Admitted the six-year-old boy on live television, “We did this for a show.”

Another hot-air balloon by the name of Lindsey Graham also made headlines last month by putting on a show of his own, as the South Carolina senator held court at a town hall meeting, touting his conservative credentials before an angry crowd that wasn’t buying it. “They’re a political fringe group,” Graham said of his critics. “I’m the conservative in the room.”

Is Graham a “conservative?” Are his detractors merely a political fringe? In a headline reading “Graham aims to tackle ‘radical’ views,” The Greenville News reports:

“Political experts say a burgeoning group of right-wing activists long seen as the fringe of the party is growing in influence, fueled by economic fears and populist ire over Washington spending and magnified by the power of the Internet … Whether they represent a vocal minority or the seeds of a serious election challenge for Graham remains to be seen…”

The News then quotes a Republican consultant who believes the state’s senior senator has “real problems” outside of last month’s town hall meeting: “‘If he were running right now, he’d be in serious trouble,’ said Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor and former campaign manager for Graham who said he has Upstate polling to support his view.’ ”

Woodard’s findings coincide with another story published in The Wall Street Journal the same day entitled “Tea-Party Activists Complicate Republican Comeback Strategy” in which the author Naftali Bendavid notes:

“The rise of conservative ‘tea party’ activists around the country has created a dilemma for Republicans. They are breathing life into the party’s quest to regain power. But they’re also waging war on some candidates hand-picked by GOP leaders as the most likely to win … the tea-party movement appears aggressively nonpartisan, much like Ross Perot’s supporters in 1992.”

Added Republican strategist and former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber, “The tea-party movement, in my judgment, has proven to be very real, but it’s precisely the fact that it’s real that makes it difficult to take advantage of … They don’t want to be co-opted by the Republican Party.”

For his entire career, Graham’s strategy for victory has been the same as his party’s — dangle conservative-sounding rhetoric before easily duped constituents during an election year so that Republicans can be returned to Washington to do as much damage as the Democrats. It’s refreshing to learn that according to some experts, a growing number of grassroots conservatives are tired of being duped.

Not that establishment Republicans won’t stop trying. Graham is a master of this long-standing Republican hoax in which politicians will float their own hot-button, hot-air balloons, especially when it concerns social issues like gay marriage, abortion, and the Second Amendment, but in reality, they are actually far more concerned with the more important business of spending trillions of dollars on unnecessary bailouts, stimulus packages, and wars, collaborating with the Democrats to expand the domestic welfare state, and appointing liberal justices to the Supreme Court. It should be noted that alleged, staunch pro-lifer and gun-rights advocate Graham has done very little to actually overturn Roe vs. Wade or federal gun laws, but has worked overtime to promote TARP, cap and trade, and amnesty for illegal aliens.

Perhaps an even better example of Graham’s posturing was his bipolar treatment of liberal Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Said Graham at first, “When I look at her record, her ideology, I’m deeply troubled.” The Daily Beast even ran the headline “Lindsey Graham Attacks Sotomayor.” A few short weeks later, Graham became the sole Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee to confirm Sotomayor.

The biggest difference between the so-called balloon boy and Graham, is that the six-year-old finally admitted his disingenuousness. Sheriff Jim Alderden, who worked on the runaway balloon case, rightly noted that the boy’s family had “put on a very good show for us, and we bought it.”

Graham and his Republican Party have put on a show for years, millions of conservative voters have bought it, and yet the GOP still refuses to fess up. Said Graham of his critics without the slightest hint of irony, “The reason I can stand up there and smile confidently and tell them I disagree is I know that most people are with me.”

Whether conservatives continue to buy Graham’s hot-air come election time is something only time will tell. But rest assured, in the meantime Lindsey Graham and similar self-described “conservatives” will never admit to their hoax and, even worse, will continue to insist that the same old Republican show must go on.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.