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Lindsey Graham: blink twice if you need help

| Wednesday, October 30, 2019

I must admit I am completely dumbfounded by Lindsey Graham. When I decided to write about him this week, I was hoping I’d be able to come up with some sort of argument about his politics or his recent behavior, but I am at a loss. Instead, I am only left with questions: What happened to Lindsey Graham? Has he lost his mind? Was he always like this? Is he okay? Dear reader, I have no answers for you.

It will only take a moment to show you what I mean. In February of 2016, Graham said, “My party has gone bats— crazy,” continuing on to say that he believed Donald Trump would lose the election because “he’s just generally a loser as a person and a candidate.” But then, for Trump’s birthday last year, Graham tweeted, “Happy Birthday, Mr. President! You’re keeping your promise to make America safer and more prosperous. And unfortunately for me, you’re doing all this without losing a step in your golf game!” 

In 2016, Graham went on Fox News and when asked about Trump, he said, “I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office.” Less than a year later, he said, “What concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label the guy some kind of kook not fit to be president.” Even Jake Tapper struggled to hide his laughter, saying, “What a difference a year makes!”

In 2015, Graham claimed Trump was a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” In 2018 he said, “He’s not, in my view, a racist by any stretch of the imagination. I have never heard him make a single racist statement. Not even close.”

You’d be forgiven if you had whiplash by this point — it can be difficult to keep Lindsey Graham’s remarks straight in your head. At one moment he appears to view Trump as the worst thing to happen to the Republican party in decades, and at the next he is praising him as though he were Ronald Reagan resurrected. 

Perhaps all this back and forth can be attributed to Graham’s desire to get reelected. It’s become increasingly clear that Republican lawmakers view Trump as their one-way ticket to staying in office, but if this was Graham’s motivation one would think he would side with the president in all matters after the election. Instead, Graham appears to be doing something even more bizarre: every so often breaking with the president and then immediately changing his mind.

When Trump threatened to fire Jeff Sessions in 2017, Lindsey Graham said, “If Jeff Sessions is fired there will be holy hell to pay.” After Sessions was fired, Graham told the press, “The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in.” Two weeks ago, after Trump announced he would pull U.S. troops out of Syria, Graham said, “This is the most screwed up decision I’ve seen since I have been in Congress.” Four days later, Graham stated, “President Trump is thinking outside the box … I’m increasingly optimistic this could turn out very well.” This statement shocked even the Fox News interviewer, who said, “This is completely different than what you have been saying all week. You have been a staunch criticizer of the president’s move to pull all the troops out of Syria.” Graham’s response? “Yes.”

What is the point of this back and forth? Why break with the president just to weakly apologize for it a week later? Every time Graham criticizes the president and then shuffles over to Fox News to take it all back he looks like a child who just received a proper scolding. It seems Trump is not quite powerful enough to keep Graham quiet all the time, but certainly more than capable of tightening the chokehold when he steps too far out of line. 

So why not just give it up and agree with Trump all the time? Wouldn’t Graham be saving himself a lot of trouble? Perhaps he is subtly calculating just how much he can get away with. When he disagrees with Trump maybe he appeals more to traditional conservatives, who are desperately searching for a viable Trump-alternative. Or perhaps we are witnessing what’s left of Graham’s morals peeking through. They don’t stay out for long, and they are clearly weak enough to be beaten back into submission by Trump when they dare come through, but it is possible they are still there. 

Regardless, it’s unclear how much further Graham will fall. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what he says (and then immediately takes back) next.

Mary Szromba is a senior majoring in philosophy and political science, and she’s never been wrong about anything in her entire life. Questions, comments and anonymous love letters can be directed to [email protected] or @_murrrrrr on Twitter

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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