It’s easy to forget that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) used to care about being a credible senator. He was a far-right hawk, to be sure, but the South Carolina Republican had a reputation for being constructive, and there was a time in which he prioritized that status.
For example, when a group of seemingly centrist senators got together in 2005 to work out a bipartisan deal on judicial nominees, Graham was part of the “gang.” When Barack Obama tried to bolster his Republican relationships and took a group of GOP senators out to dinner on his own dime, Graham was not only invited, he helped shape the guest-list. When Democratic immigration reform advocates needed pragmatic Republican partners to craft a bipartisan package, Graham was one of only four members invited to help write the bill.
And when Donald Trump started taking over the Republican Party, few GOP officials were as outspoken in their denunciations of the television personality as South Carolina’s senior senator.
But after the 2016 race, Graham became a fundamentally different kind of politician. Many assumed it was the inevitable result of his self-preservation instincts: Graham saw the writing on the wall and realized that he had to move sharply to the right to protect his career. The hope in some circles was that the senator would move back toward the mainstream once he’d won re-election and Trump was defeated.
It’s time to retire those hopes. In case there were any lingering doubts, the last several days have made it painfully clear that the metamorphosis is complete and the “old” Graham is not coming back.
Last month, Graham’s scramble to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett — breaking his word, setting fire to his credibility and reputation — looked like the low point of his professional career. His posturing has since taken an even darker turn.
Two days after Election Day, asked on Fox News about the possibility of state legislatures “invalidating” election results the GOP doesn’t like, Graham replied, “Everything should be on the table.” Four days after Election Day, he announced plans to use the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate imagined “voting irregularities and misconduct,” pointing to conspiracy theories that don’t make sense.
Five days after Election Day, after learning of Trump’s defeat, Graham declared, “Trump has not lost. Do not concede, Mr. President. Fight hard.”
And six days after Election Day, the South Carolinian returned to Fox News to peddle this truly bonkers line of attack:
“The state of play in America in 2020 for Republicans is not good. We need to fight back. We win because of our ideas and we lose elections because [Democrats] cheat us.”
Andrew Feinberg added soon after, “This is not something that is said by a person who actually wants to represent people in a democracy.”
It’s also not something that is said by an honorable elected official who expects to be taken seriously.
Graham won’t be on the ballot again for six years. Donald Trump will be a private citizen in 71 days. The senator no longer has an excuse for such ridiculous posturing, all of which leaves no doubt that this is simply a reflection of who Lindsey Graham has become.