One of the more common parlor games in online political circles these days involves analyzing one of the most stunning makeovers in Senate history. I’m speaking, of course, of Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, onetime wingman to the late “maverick” John McCain, who was widely assumed to be his successor as the leading independent Republican in the U.S. Senate. Instead, for whatever set of reasons, Graham has become Donald Trump’s obsequious majordomo.
McCain’s reputation was inflated, of course. He was most often a doctrinaire conservative who voted the party line. But there were occasions when he would step outside the box and sometimes it made a big difference. Graham would often follow him, fashioning himself as a “common sense” kind of guy who didn’t follow the crowd although even back in his first Senate term he showed he was willing to break the rules. In one overlooked perfidious act, Graham and Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona conspired to put a fake floor debate into the legislative record to back up their argument in an important enemy-combatant case before the Supreme Court. So Graham’s willingness to play dirty has always been there.
Graham ran for president in 2016 and while he was far from alone in criticizing Donald Trump, he was among the most cutting of all the prominent Republicans who went after him. He said at one point, “I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office,” and called the future president a “race-baiting xenophobic bigot.” He told CNN, “You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell!”
As one would expect, Trump returned the favor saying, “He’s one of the dumbest human beings I’ve ever seen” and “He says, ‘I know so much.’ He knows about the military? I could push him over with a little thimble.” One might have thought that Graham, the junior maverick, would have taken on the role of the loyal GOP opposition as his mentor McCain did. But Graham has gone the opposite way, becoming the most sycophantic of Trump supporters in the upper chamber of Congress. The aforementioned parlor game revolves around the question of why he is doing it.
Consensus seems to be that Graham had to do that in order to retain his Senate seat in South Carolina, where Trump is very popular. It’s kind of sad that a favorite son has built up so little good will in his home state after two decades, but apparently Trump trumps hometown loyalty for most Republicans.
Graham has taken this to such lengths, however, that it’s pretty clear that there’s more going on than his own 2020 re-election. Plenty of other senators are facing the voters in Trump-friendly states without feeling the need to turn themselves into fawning lackeys.
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo theorized on Twitter this week that this is a character issue rather than a strictly political one. He wrote:
5/ Yes, Graham's political survival depends on there not being a Trump backed primary challenger. But the sheer level of obeisance, sycophancy and dignity loss cannot be described simply by a pragmatic judgment. It's deeper. When McCain became ill and retreated …
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) November 25, 2019
7/ may have led him in Trump's direction at the start. But then character took over.
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) November 25, 2019
I think that’s correct. Graham’s flamboyant self-subjugation goes so far beyond what is necessary to curry favor that it is clearly something he feels the need to do for his own psychological reasons.
This week we had yet another example of Graham’s excessive servility when he angrily announced that as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee he will begin hearings into the alleged Biden corruption in Ukraine in 2014. He promised to call Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, to testify.
Graham also sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week requesting documents related to Joe Biden’s activities in Ukraine. It’s too arcane to get into all this here but suffice it to say this is clearly in response to Trump’s obsession with the Bidens, and accusations that have repeatedly been debunked because the timeline simply doesn’t make sense. Needless to say, Joe Biden was not happy about this. He told CNN:
I am disappointed, and quite frankly I’m angered by the fact — he knows me. He knows my son. He knows there’s nothing to this. Trump is now essentially holding power over him that even the Ukrainians wouldn’t yield to … Lindsey is about to go down in a way that I think he’s going to regret his whole life.
Graham protested that his conscience is clear, saying, “That’s the way it works in politics” and explaining, “We’re not going to live in a country where only one party gets investigated,” which seems like an admission that this is all a political stunt. (The idea that only Republicans get investigated is going to come as a huge surprise to every Democratic administration.) In other words, he’s currying favor with Trump. Again.
What’s interesting is that Graham has been promising to hold hearings and investigations for almost a year now. As soon as he took the Judiciary gavel back in January, he announced that he planned to look into all the Fox News fever-swamp scandals, from Hillary Clinton’s email server to the FBI, the FISA warrants on Carter Page and former FBI Director James Comey’s alleged Clinton alliance.
After the Mueller Report was released, he doubled down, suggesting to Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that he wanted to hold hearings to question Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch because “Republicans believe that the FBI and DOJ — the top people — took the law in their own hands because they wanted Clinton to win and Trump to lose.” (If so, they had a funny way of showing it. The FBI publicly sabotaged Clinton’s campaign and kept the blockbuster investigation into Trump’s collusion with the Russian government under wraps. That illogic hasn’t stopped the right from promulgating this absurd conspiracy theory.)
After Comey was cleared by the DOJ inspector general at the end of August, Graham took to Sean Hannity’s show on Fox to declare that he planned to “investigate the investigators,” promising to call former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. In early November, he announced to Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business he would insist that the whistleblower in the Ukraine scandal be called before his committee to testify. Now he says that he is going to call Hunter Biden.
You may have noticed that none of these hearings, or any hint of a real investigation, have come to pass. It is highly likely that Graham has discovered that his father-figure Donald Trump doesn’t have much of an attention span. As we have learned from the bribery scheme with the Ukrainian president, if all Graham wants to do is keep his big, strong, president happy he can just keep appearing on Fox and announcing investigations that never happen. That may be the best we can hope for at this point.
There’s a big problem if Joe Biden only wants to serve one term as president
Former Vice President Joe Biden may intend to only serve one term if elected president in 2020, a new report from Politico found on Wednesday.
The idea of eschewing a second term had previously buzzed around the campaign, as well as the related notion that Biden could announce a one-term pledge. But according to Politico, Biden is currently against the “pledge” and is instead only saying privately that he “will almost certainly not run for a second term.”
If this is true, it’s a huge mistake.
‘Useful Idiots’: Tonight’s impeachment debate will show how the GOP is now the ‘Grand Old Putin’ party
When Congress begins debating changes in the articles of impeachment Wednesday night, we will see on full display how Congressional Republicans, to defend Donald Trump, have given up any pretense of principle, the rule of law and loyalty to the country.
House Republicans have embraced Trump’s win-for-Trump-at-all-costs philosophy.
Think of them as the kind of cowards who would never jump on a hand grenade, but would instinctively push the person next to them onto the explosive. This is a political extension of the economic philosophy that we’ve got ours, tough for you, in Republican tax, spend and regulatory policy,
Here are 5 terrible moments for Trump from IG Horowitz’ Senate Judiciary testimony
Earlier this week, Michael Horowitz — inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) — delivered his 434-page report on the FBI’s 2016 investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election and possible Russian ties to Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign. And on Wednesday, Horowitz testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearing got underway shortly after 10 a.m. EST with a lengthy opening speech from Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, followed by a speech from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.
Neither Graham nor Feinstein were critical of Horowitz’ report, but during their questioning of Horowitz, they spun the report in different ways — with Graham jumping through hoops on Trump’s behalf, while Feinstein shot down the conspiracy theory that the FBI spied on Trump’s campaign in 2016.