Posted Friday morning, January 12, 2018. Slightly revised Thursday morning, January 18.
The Two Faces of Lindsey Graham. Photo by Al Drago/CQ Roll Call/AP, via Mother Jones, May 2016.
Ok, Senator Graham, which is it?
“You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell...He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” ---South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, December 8, 2015.
“No, I don’t think he’s a xenophobic, race-baiting religious bigot…” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, January 8, 2018.
Back when Graham first called Donald Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot,” it was almost reasonable to think he might not really be a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. Almost.
Lots of smartish people, not all of whom were Right Wing Republicans and Trump apologists---many were journalists, pundits, analysts, and conservative commentators who passed for “moderates” on TV---were assuring us that what he appeared to be when he ranted and raved and clowned and canted for the adoring mobs at his rallies was just stuff he said to get elected. We were to take him seriously but not literally. He didn’t seriously want to build a literal wall, for instance.
A moment’s reflection led to the question, But then what does he seriously mean when he promises to build his non-literal wall? And the answer was quick and obvious.
He seriously means to keep THEM out.
He was seriously and literally a xenophobe and a racist and a religious bigot and his supporters knew to take him both seriously and literally, even if the pundits didn’t.
Turns out Trump was being both serious and literal about the wall. In fact, sometimes it seems that building the wall is all he seriously and literally wants to do. Every compromise on immigration and spending he says he’d consider making with the Democrats includes their letting him build it. But never mind that for now.
The point is that during the campaign, a good many Republicans found reasons to tell themselves Trump wasn’t what he was, but Graham wasn’t one of them. He took Trump at his word.
At least, he appeared to.
By now, of course, there’s no reason for anyone not to take him at his word, and, as it happens, most Republicans are happy to do it. The GOP has been the party of xenophobic, racist, religious bigots since before World War I. It’s nothing to most Republicans to accept Trump as one of their own that way. The ones that seemingly haven’t are only pretending in public because they know being xenophobic, racist, religious bigots doesn’t win elections in many parts of the country. In other parts, though, it’s what keeps the majority of people there voting Republican. South Carolina is one of them.
Graham has watched along with the rest of the country as evidence has piled up---as if there wasn’t a mountain of it already---that Trump is seriously and literally a xenophobic, racist and race-baiting, religious bigot. The Muslim bans. The mass deportations. The excuse-making for the neo-Nazis and the Klan. The attempt to ban transpeople from the military, something the generals and admirals didn’t ask for and don’t even want but which threw the Religious Right into ecstasies.
Let’s not get started on the national anthem.
But how about his persistence in getting his big beautiful wall built? $18 billion? That’s a bargain! Give him that and he’ll sign DACA. He says. He also still insists Mexico will pay for it. Just later. Down the road.. He’ll claw the money out of them. Or make another one of his artful deals. Trust him.
Then there’s Puerto Rico which he’s let drown and stew for months now. To be fair, all Republicans are complicit in that, Graham included. But that has more to do with their not wanting to spend any money while they were trying to get their tax heist through while claiming massive tax cuts for the rich wouldn’t add to the deficit. That $1.5 trillion? Chicken feed. Forget about it. Same deal with CHIP. If they’re slow to re-fund it and continue to be stingy with aid to Puerto Rico---and Florida and Houston---that’ll be due to their cruelty as much as to their racism and bigotry. Remember, they hate anyone in need their taxes would be used to help.
Of course the shithole sneer only just happened, and it was the same day Graham told an interviewer he no longer thought Trump was a race-baiting, xenophobic et cetera that the administration announced it was yanking the provisional residency permits of 200,000 Salvadorans who came here to live after the earthquakes that devastated El Salvador in 2001, so Graham couldn’t have known to take either into consideration when he took back what he said about Trump being a race-baiting, xenophobic et cetera.
But as the Washington Post has reported, telling the Salvadorans they have to pack up and get out is just “the latest step by the administration to cut the number of foreigners living in the United States” and “nearly 1 million immigrants whose lives in the United States have been upended and set to a deadline under President Trump.” And it’s unlikely to have escaped Graham’s notice that:
...nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were protected under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, are set to begin losing their temporary work permits in March at the rate of nearly 1,000 per day.
There’s plenty of evidence that Trump hasn’t changed his tune and is in fact playing it with renewed gusto. His base calls for encore after encore, and their raucous applause is about all he has left to let him know he’s as beloved as he needs to feel.
So what’s made Graham change his tune? Instead of more or less apologizing, he should be strutting around bragging about how right he was or, at least, if he’s afraid that would be impolitic---beside Trump being a vindictive bastard and Graham’s not thinking it prudent to incur more of Trump’s Twitter wrath, it would put his fellow Republican senators on the spot. They’d be in the position of either having to agree with Graham or defend the president, and neither option would help with their re-elections and fundraising---doing his bragging off the record to his friends in the media, and soaking in their admiration and flattery while keeping his mouth shut in public.
Conspiracy minded observers online and off have a one word answer.
They’re convinced the Russians or Trump have something on him and he’s being blackmailed.
You can’t tell with this crowd.
It’s looking more and more like the Russians have taken over the entire Republican party and every Republican member of Congress is either fine with that or has been coerced into playing along.
But that’s only how it’s looking. I have my own tinfoil hat days along with everybody else, but what I think is going on is that the Republicans are taking advantage of the moment to get what they can get while they can, and that includes Graham.
To assume the only explanation for his complete and groveling about face on Trump's xenophobia, racism, and bigotry is to accept that he was being serious and literal when he spouted off back when.
And maybe that’s all he was doing, spouting off.
At the time, Graham was smarting from the magnitude of his early skunking in the primaries. He might very well have just been lashing out, blaming Trump in place of the voters who’d rejected him so utterly. There’s reason to suspect Graham meant what he said or cared if Trump was what he said he was. It’s curious, for instance, that Graham would be outraged at Trump’s being a xenophobic, racist, religious bigot when that pretty much describes many of Graham’s own voters back home.
Graham is a true and loyal Republican and not of the moderate type the media likes to make him out to be. He’s a conservative Republican which is to say a Right Wing Republican since there’s barely any other kind left. But he made a hard turn to the even farther right in 2014 when he was worried about a primary challenge during his last re-election bid. He needed to shore up support on the right. Right Wing southerners aren’t noted for their open-heartedness and love for their fellow human beings, particularly when those fellow human beings aren’t white and Christian and don’t speak English.
But there’s something else to keep in mind about Graham.
He’s a weasel.
And he’s well recompensed for his weaseling.
Graham has dined out for years on the reputation he’s made playing a “moderate” and “reasonable” conservative on the TV bobblehead shows and in the op-eds. He’s been eagerly available as a source for political reporters looking for stories about what happening in Congress and in those stories he routinely comes off sounding as if he’s taking positions not as far to the Right as those of his fellow Republicans, positions he often fails to support with his votes. He’s as bad as his friend John McCain in that way. And for the eight years between January 20, 2009 and January 19, 2017, the subtext and the text of just about all his on air and in print bloviating was what a miserable failure Barack Obama, for whom he oozed contempt, was as President.
No race-baiting in that, I’m sure.
Graham might have been spouting off. He might have meant what he said. He might have been opportunistically polishing his brand.
He just might have made the call that there were more gigs for a Republican mainstay who was out to stop Trump from getting the party’s nomination. And he might have been sincere in joining the effort. He was as convinced Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton as just about everybody else was, including, apparently, Trump himself.
On the day Trump won the Indiana primary, effectively making himself the presumptive nominee, Graham was tweeting:
“If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…”
Graham called Trump a race-biting etcetera in December of 2015. In February of 2016, he added that Trump was a “nut job” and “a loser as a person and a candidate.” At the beginning of May 2016, the Washington Post was listing him as number one among prominent Republicans who hated Trump the most. But less than three weeks later, Mother Jones was headlining an article Lindsey Graham Seems to Have Forgotten How Much He Hates Donald Trump that reported this:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reportedly spent the weekend urging big-money Republican donors to support presumptive nominee Donald Trump. It’s a pretty shocking turnaround for a guy who was once the loudest—and sometimes only—critic of Trump in the GOP presidential field.
Like I said, Graham is a loyal Republican and Trump was on his way to being the Party’s standard bearer and leader.
Now, add to all that, this.
While he was calling Trump a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot, nut job, and loser, he was also worrying out loud that Trump wasn’t “a reliable conservative,” and what does that mean if it doesn’t mean being a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot?
What it means is that along with Paul Ryan and other “establishment” Republicans, Graham was worried about the possibility that Trump was literally and seriously the populist the political media kept touting him as. While we’ve been finding out that Trump is very bit the racist loon we took him for and worse, Graham, like Ryan and their fellow Republicans, have been finding out to their pleasure and relief that Trump is every bit their kind of corporatist and Social Darwinist.
Graham, like the rest of that cold-hearted, bloody-minded gang, might be saying to himself:
“I don’t care if he is or isn’t a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He signed onto the tax heist. He hates Obamacare and wants it dead, dead, dead. He’s deregulating like a madman. I still don’t trust him on matters of trade, but he’s all for handing the country over to the same rich, greedy bastards I answer to, and that’s good enough for me!”
Don’t forget that when the Republicans’ attempt to kill Obamacare seemed dead, dead, dead, it was Graham, along with Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who tried to revive it for one last assault, and the Graham-Cassidy bill was even more nakedly cruel than the version of the AHCA John McCain helped kill at the last minute.
Plus: There’s a real possibility Graham has just come to like and admire the guy.
Donald Trump is singularly without virtues but he has qualities that can look like virtues. Good humor, bonhomie, sportfulness. He’s a salesman and a good enough one that he was able to sell people who should have known better the same white elephants and bridges in Brooklyn for years, although the suckers were getting thin on the ground before he went into television and then politics, and a good salesman needs to be at least feign interest in his customers. A mark of a talented salesman is an ability to make you think he’s your pal. Might be Graham’s been taken in.
And it’s not unusual for weak men to fall in love with the bully who takes their lunch money and slams them into lockers. Graham has always struck me as that kind of weakling. I thought of it as a defining quality of his friendship with McCain. Wouldn’t be out of character for his being smitten with an even bigger bully.
And it’s more comforting to the ego to see your victorious opponent as a unique, political genius than to admit you were beaten handily by a run of the mill racist demagogue and kook.
But it should also be noted that it’s not Graham who seems to have fallen most deeply in love. It’s Trump:
Mother Jones again:
In recent months, Graham has slowly emerged as something of a Trump “whisperer” in the Oval Office, with the two known to play golf together and work collaboratively on legislation. “Lindsey used to be a great enemy of mine, and now he’s a great friend of mine,” Trump said during a meeting on immigration Thursday. “I really like Lindsey. Can you believe that? I never thought I’d say that, but I do like him a lot.”
Now, here’s my point, at last.
Whenever people do rotten things, rather than suspect something dark and sinister and melodramatic is afoot, I assume they’re just being rotten because they’re people and people are rotten. Very few of us are any good. The best of us know they’re bad and don’t like it and try hard not to be. Most of the rest of us, most of the time, are not blessed with that amount of self-awareness and strength of will. We’re more often ruled by our vices than guided by our virtues. So when a politician does something that smacks of corruption, odds are it’s due to his own vanity, ambition, or greed than to nefarious outside influences.
Instead of its being the case that Trump has gotten something on Graham, I think it’s the case that either due to vanity, ambition, greed, or all of the above, Graham is angling to get something out of Trump. Secretary of State, maybe. I hear the job’s going to be opening up soon.
Or maybe it’s Attorney General. Jeff Sessions and Trump are reportedly still on the outs, Sessions either refuses or doesn’t think he can make the moves Trump wants him to make to shut down Robert Mueller, and Graham just did something guaranteed to warm the cockles of the President’s heart or whatever he has in place of one. I don’t mean anything he’s said, although along with taking back what he said about Trump being a race-baiting etcetera, Graham has gassed on in praise of the President’s presidenting---
From the Hill:
Graham has praised Trump’s foreign policy decisions, including the president's move to arm Ukraine as it fights pro-Russian separatists, his policies toward North Korea and his initial response to protests in Iran.
"I want to help him where I can because there's a lot on this man's plate, and we should all want to help him," Graham said last month on CBS.
---and Graham is surely aware that best way to worm your way into Trump’s affection is with obsequious, self-abasing, bootlicking flattery. But deeds count for more than words. Back to Mother Jones:
The next day, the president’s admiration for his new friend likely grew when Graham, along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), called for a criminal investigation into Christophe Steele, the former British spy who authored the infamous Trump dossier. Democrats slammed the decision as politically motivated and an attempt to distract from Trump’s potential times to the Kremlin. Graham on Monday defended the criminal recommendation, adding that he did not believe informants should “take their work product and give it to the FBI and the media at the same time.”
Like I would know. As I’ve said on many an occasion: When you use words like “might” and “maybe” and “as if” and “possibility” a lot in a piece, you’re not doing analysis, you’re writing fiction. But that’s my theory. Graham is asking to be bribed. He’s put out a For Sale sign and his price is a Cabinet appointment.
Blackmail is hard work. Bribery’s a whole lot easier because usually the mark is willing to meet you more than halfway, his hand already out.
Which reminds me of Oliver Mannion’s favorite line from the movie Lincoln. It’s said by James Spader’s character, a canny and cynical political machine operative dispatched to round up votes for the 13th Amendment in Congress.
“It’s not illegal to bribe Congressmen. They’d starve otherwise.”