Lindsey Graham Is No Reasonable Republican

Lindsey Graham Is No Reasonable Republican

Lindsey Graham Is No Reasonable Republican

The South Carolina senator has squandered what remained of his flimsy reputation as a moderate with his fealty to Donald Trump—even as the former president faces federal charges.


In Washington’s high church of respectable opinion-making, Lindsey Graham’s regular turn in the guest chair of various Sunday network pundit shows was something of a sacrament: a regular, comforting ritual that assured the viewing public that God was in his heaven and difference-trimming caviling remained the natural order of things here on Earth. Throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, the establishment press eagerly hyped Graham as that great rara avis of the D.C. governing menagerie, a reasonable Republican. He owed this reputation chiefly to two things: his opposition to torture (yes, that’s how low the bar of intra-GOP dissent was set in the W. years), and his fealty to Washington’s official mascot of all things “maverick,” the late Arizona Senator John McCain. His adulation for McCain was likely a key determining factor in his erstwhile support for immigration reform and his occasional feints toward the notional center in judicial appointments.

But Graham was never anything resembling a moderate; he just played one on TV. That’s been painfully in evidence since, like other high-profile national Republicans, he’s proven himself an obliging serial apologist for Donald Trump and his full-throttle conversion of the GOP into the party of Confederate Mussolinism. Where the old Graham might be occasionally heard, in McCain mode, fretting that the GOP couldn’t be the angry white-guy party forever, today’s Graham can’t pander to angry white men fast enough. That’s why his former support for immigration reform is now a relic of the pre-MAGA past.

So with last week’s federal indictment of former president Donald Trump on espionage charges, Graham—who served as a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General Corps—raced to the ABC This Week set to pronounce the Justice Department’s action “absolutely ridiculous. Whether you like Trump or not, he absolutely did not commit espionage. He did not disseminate, leak, or provide information to a foreign power or to a news organization to damage the country. He is not a spy. He’s overcharged.”

Well, no. As the Justice Department’s indictment shows in damning detail, Trump did indeed wave classified documents in front of a pair of freelance journalists who were writing the ghosted autobiography of his former chief of staff Mark Meadows—an editorial project that on its face would disqualify its progenitors as acting in anything like the national interest. What’s more, the Espionage Act doesn’t stipulate that the breaches of security it sanctions must result in exchanges of information with hostile powers or other bad actors; it simply has to represent a potential benefit to them, and be withheld from the federal operatives seeking its retention. The Espionage Act may be an overbroad statute that needlessly quarantines all sorts of information from public access, but there’s no serious doubt that Trump violated it, repeatedly and gaudily.

Graham has to know this, which just compounds his disgrace as a McCain sycophant transformed into a Trump one: He’s debasing his one calling card of impartial statesmanlike reasoning—his credential as a military legal authority—for the sake of a feckless autocrat. Trump may not be affixing price stickers to the cache of classified documents in his Mar-a-Lago exile (that’s just his apparent MO for executive pardons). But he’s preening over them like glorified golf trophies: totems of his own world-historical importance reserved for his private sanctums of cool presidential shit. His Gollum-like dedication to hoarding them is a grim reminder that granting Trump access to them in the first place was a national security risk of epic proportions.

Added to Graham’s willful distortion of the truth is, of course, his very Trump-specific record of howling hypocrisy. Graham famously denounced Trump prior to his nomination in 2016, saying (on Meet the Press, of course) that “if Trump gets the nomination, the Republican Party will get killed, we’ll get creamed, we’ll lose, and we’ll deserve it.” Earlier in the primary cycle, he filmed himself smashing his cell phone after Trump had tweeted out his number and instructed supporters to call and air their grievances over Graham’s calling Trump a “jackass.” After sucking up to Trump throughout his term in office, Graham once again theatrically denounced him after the January 6 insurrection—only to yet once more revert to his Trump-quisling playbook, bending the knee at Mar-a-Lago.

Graham’s camera-ready brand of stunt statesmanship is, among other things, exhausting. It requires some effort of the will to recall that even as Graham was flirting with his latest meaningless bout of Trump denunciation, he was also placing calls to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, allegedly trying to shake down election officials there into “finding” an extra 11,000 Trump votes on the rolls in the wake of his 2020 defeat. In other words, his professed outrage over January 6 seems to stem at least as much from the fact that the coup attempt ultimately failed as from its status as a fascist power grab. It’s this sort of plainly amoral power worship that prompted conservative Washington Post columnist George F. Will to dismiss Graham as a “political windsock” and a “gastrointestinal challenge”—a figure who thinks the GOP’s “identity and survival depend on servile obedience to this president’s myopia.”

Point taken—but anatomizing the colossal character failures of Lindsey Graham doesn’t go far enough. Because the sorry truth of the matter is that if Graham didn’t exist, the mainstream political press would invent him—as it has scores of other fake reasonable Republicans, from David Brooks to Susan Collins. Hell, Tucker Carlson languished in that role for a decade or so before succumbing to his own inner Father Coughlin. At the end of the day, Graham owes his otherwise inexplicable public prominence to a cast of discursive gatekeepers who wouldn’t know a wind sock if it hit them in the face.

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