Some people are a little concerned about Lindsey Graham.
South Carolina’s senior senator has, in recent months, seemed a tad ... off. He hasn’t really been his Maverick-y self since the fall, when he delivered a passionate defense of former teenage binge-drinker — and Supreme Court nominee — Brett Kavanaugh.
But lately he’s really been out there. Just in the past week or so, he has:
- Lobbied President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency on national TV.
- Threatened to haul former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe into the Senate Judiciary Committee to find out if anyone, anywhere has ever talked about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.
- And on Sunday, he praised the idea of taking money intended for a military base middle school and instead using it to build a wall on the southern border.
“I would say it’s better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border,” Graham said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”
That seemed a little cruel, not like the Lindsey that South Carolina has known for decades. So some people have started to worry. But never fear, level-headed Lindsey is still in there. He’s just running for re-election.
Graham is no fool.
He has been regarded suspiciously by the right wing of the Republican Party for a long time. All those years of people calling him Sen. Grahamnesty may have been the first clue. They went after him in the primary in 2008, and again in 2014, but didn’t really have strong enough candidates to send him packing.
Graham has always survived by the grace of mainstream Republicans and Democrats who want to vote in a primary with, you know, actual consequences.
But now the senator faces re-election in 2020, a year in which Trump will also be running (barring some unforeseen reading of his Miranda rights or the aforementioned invocation of the 25th Amendment).
Since Trump’s approval ratings among South Carolina Republicans are up there with Jesus and guns, and Mark Sanford showed everyone how well criticizing Trump plays in this state, Graham has sidled up to the president shamelessly.
He plays golf with him, reiterates his points and amends them as necessary. Graham has basically become Trump’s one-man cheerleading squad/enabler.
Earlier this week he even characterized the president’s speech declaring a war on socialism — at home and abroad — as his “Reagan moment.”
Which is pretty funny considering that Graham had a slightly different take on Trump in 2015. On CNN, he called him a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.”
Some people would call this radical change of heart cynical at best, and at worst a ploy doomed to fail.
But no, it’s working out just fine.
A single partisan hissy fit in defense of Kavanaugh turned the tide for Graham.
All those people who’d been calling him a RINO for the past decade were suddenly in love.
The right’s new-found adoration for Graham, which echoes his about-face on Trump, has foiled many planned primary challenges. Republican political consultant Walter Whetsell told The Post and Courier’s Jamie Lovegrove that most of those folks have beat a hasty retreat.
“The only rumblings I’ve heard is the sound of any potential challengers mentioned six months ago running for the hills,” Whetsell said.
And that’s exactly what Graham intended. He wasn’t auditioning for attorney general or any other Cabinet post. He just wants to keep his job and avoid any unnecessary conflict in the primary.
This is how you do that in South Carolina. The scary thing is that Graham’s redemption was so easy. All he had to do was act hateful, massage Trump’s ridiculous ego and — presto — he’s almost assured of six more years.
Sure, Graham’s sharp right turn has attracted more interest than usual among the Democrats. Former state party Chairman Jaime Harrison is talking about running, and could give the senator his most serious challenge since 2002.
But Graham isn’t worried. He knows what plays in South Carolina.
And, apparently, how to play many people in the Republican Party.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.