What Happened to Lindsey Graham?
From statesman to fluffer-in-chief
"Lindsey Graham and other Republican politicians lost the ability to see what they were becoming. They rallied around an authoritarian, excused authoritarian acts, and embraced authoritarian ideas.
“This is a story about how that happened." — Will Saletan, the Bulwark
Today’s Bulwark features a year-long special project by our colleague Will Saletan, examining the extraordinary story of Lindsey’s Graham’s transformation from thought-leader to cringeworthy sycophant. But Saletan isn’t just writing about Graham: his story is a case study in the moral corruption of democracy.
The study is not only a multi-part article — it is also an e-book, which is available here.
Will explains that his article/book “isn’t a rant about Graham’s servility or hypocrisy. And it isn’t a profile.”
Many other journalists have written about Graham and Trump. Most of them have focused on the personal relationship between the two men. They examine the ways in which Graham’s evolution was distinctive.
I’m not interested in what’s distinctive about Graham. I’m interested in what isn’t. How does his story illuminate what happened to the whole Republican party? How did the poison work?
First, because he was a central player in the Republican party’s capitulation to Trump. And second, because he talked constantly. He produced an enormous trove of interviews, speeches, press briefings, and social media posts. Through these records, we can see how he changed, week to week and month to month. We can watch the poison work.
It’s a slow death. The surrender to despotism doesn’t happen all at once. It advances in stages: a step, a rationalization. Another step, another rationalization. The deeper you go, the more you need to justify. You say what you need to say. You believe what you need to believe.
So let’s go back to the beginning. Let’s see who Lindsey Graham was before he drank the poison.
When Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign in June 2015, Lindsey Graham understood immediately just how dangerous he was. Writes Will:
Trump had long peddled the myth that President Barack Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya. In his announcement speech, Trump implied that most Mexican immigrants were rapists or drug mules.
Graham assessed the New York businessman as “hateful,” a “kook,” a “demagogue,” and a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” who “represents the worst in America.” He identified patterns of behavior that made Trump a menace to the nation: belligerence, ruthlessness, indifference to facts, and a penchant for targeting minorities.
On issue after issue, Graham’s denunciations of Trump were striking for their clarity. All of this makes for extraordinary reading now, but back in 2015, writes Saletan, Graham “didn’t just repudiate Trump’s savagery. He castigated the Republican National Committee and other Republican presidential candidates for failing to join in the repudiation.”
“Where is the party leadership?” Graham demanded in August 2015, as Trump promoted bigotry, oil theft, and violations of the Constitution. “Where are the other candidates?” Months later, Graham complained that the candidates were “eerily silent” about Trump’s proposed Muslim ban….
As Trump preached barbarism and surged in the primaries, Graham heaped scorn on Republican leaders who “hid in the corner, because they were worried about the consequences of taking on the bully.” Yielding to the bully would only embolden the bully…
“Let your fear go, folks, as Republicans,” Graham told the Portsmouth audience. “Stand up for what makes us great. Tell Donald Trump, ‘You’re wrong.’ Don’t be afraid of him leaving and losing an election. I’m not afraid of losing an election. I’m afraid of losing our soul.”
So what happened? “How did a senator who clearly understood every element of the oncoming disaster—Trump, his angry fan base, and the timidity of the Republican elite—become part of the evil that followed?
The first piece of the answer is that Graham, like many other Republicans who initially opposed Trump, had made a political calculation. And that calculation turned out to be wrong.
In TV appearances, Graham often said he would “rather lose without Trump than try to win with him.” That sounded brave. But Graham didn’t really believe Trump could win. He didn’t think he might need to suck up to Trump, because he assumed that the businessman-candidate was so toxic—in particular, so abrasive to women and to Hispanic voters—that even if he managed to win the nomination, he would lose badly in a general election.
So in 2015 and early 2016, Graham found it relatively easy to speak out against Trump. He didn’t think he had much to lose. His courage hadn’t been tested.
In May 2016, that began to change.
You really need to read the whole thing here:
The Corruption of Lindsey Graham (home)
Chapter One: Graham’s Moral Clarity
Chapter Two: A Trump’s Best Friend
Chapter Three: Power Shift
Chapter Four: Domestic Enemies
Chapter Five: The First Impeachment
Chapter Six: Insurrection Day
Chapter Seven: Return of the Orange God-King
[A printable PDF of Will’s article is available here.]
A New American Exceptionalism?
If you want a bit more of Will and me….
Greg Abbott says gun violence is due to a mental health crisis, not guns. So, America is exceptionally crazy? Plus, a bad poll for Biden, Trump’s type of woman, and Will Saletan on how Lindsey Graham can explain the rise of authoritarianism in the US.
You can listen to the whole thing here.
Folks…. “Cheney launches New Hampshire TV ad slashing Trump.”
NYT: “Biden Casts Himself as the Trump Beater. Polls Suggest That’s No Sure Thing.”
Déjà vu: “Trump expands lead over GOP to largest yet: poll.”
NBC: “E. Jean Carroll rests case in civil trial after jurors see video of Trump confusing her with his ex-wife.”
Wapo: “Most say mifepristone abortion pill should stay on market, Post-ABC poll finds.”
Daily Beast: “Texas Mall Shooter Mauricio Garcia’s Disturbing Neo-Nazi Posts.”
The Hill: “US passes 200 mass shootings this year.”
ABC: “Judge in Trump criminal case issues protective order to prevent sharing of evidence.”
David French: “Tucker Carlson’s Dark and Malign Influence Over the Christian Right.”
Wapo: “Arizona official targeted by election deniers now struggles with PTSD.”
Can’t make it up: “Alex Jones Threatens Man Who Impersonated Tucker Carlson & Said They Should Suck Each Other’s Nipples.”
A reminder: tickets are going fast for next week’s live event in New York.
To kick-off the evening’s program, Charlie Sykes, founding editor and host of The Bulwark Podcast, will open with a live episode taping of his weekly check-in with Bulwark colleague and NYT Best-selling author Tim Miller. You can expect Charlie and his guest to tackle the political news of the day with keen insights and analysis.
Then the gang from The Next Level podcast—Sarah Longwell and Jonathan V. Last—will take over…
Doors open at 6:30 and the show will start at 7pm ET and run approximately two hours.
Plan to stick around after the show to mix and mingle with guests and to meet the team from The Bulwark. Symphony Space concessions will be open.
Bring three friends and your fourth ticket is on us—FREE! Just add four tickets to your cart, and we’ll take care of the rest.
California’s costly reparations
What happened? A government-sponsored task force in California approved a lengthy list of recommended legislative measures for reparations for black residents that will now be sent to state officials for consideration.
Why does it matter? Economists estimate that the reparations proposals could cost the state nearly $800 billion—more than 2.5 times the annual state budget in California, according to NPR. The task force did not make any recommendations on how to pay for this expensive wishlist and did not consider the feasibility or desirability of the state spending such large sums of money in this manner.
TLP’s take: When people criticize the Democratic Party for being extremist, these are the kind of irresponsible proposals they have in mind. California residents can barely afford to live in the state, let alone work longer and harder to pay higher taxes to fund a dubious reparations package that is likely unconstitutional and will certainly bankrupt the state.
"Greg Abbott says gun violence is due to a mental health crisis, not guns. So, America is exceptionally crazy?"
First, in answer to the question, yes. If America allows mass shootings to go on unchecked and actually tries to make it easier for people to get assault weapons, especially the young (see: Texas), whose critical thinking skills, maturity, and reasoning capabilities are far from fully developed ... it is collectively crazy. Other progressive, forward-thinking nations -- as close to our own border as Canada -- seem to figure it out, such that their people do not empower dangerous leaders whose actions of self-preservation, and agenda of maximum freedom with a minimum of responsibility to others, are placed ahead of the people whom they are elected and compensated to serve, and for the worst of reasons: hyperpartisan gain and eradication of opposition.
Second, I'm exhausted with opportunists like Abbott and by their strawman argument that the gun violence issue is inherently an either-or proposition: either you have gun control or you have more and better mental health measures. Fact: you can have both. Another fact: not everyone who performs a mass shooting would be flagged by mental health testing. There are various reasons for active shooter situations, not just "clinically crazy" as they might put it. Momentary anger and a lack of control. Misguided revenge motives. Lack of maturity. Peer pressure (e.g. gangs). And so on. All need to be addressed without resorting to a one-size fits-all approach.
The mental health argument falls flat when we factor in that all these shootings have one thing in common: those crazy people are sane enough to recognize that the weapon that can do the most lethal damage, in the shortest amount of time, and with the most defensive potential for the shooter, is a firearm. It is the common denominator in every event, so it is the one to address first and foremost. Wake me when we see a surge in mass attacks on a public place by crazy people wielding a knife or baseball bat instead of a firearm. No, it's about the guns. Always has been. Always will be. Unless we get over our own crazy long enough to seek change instead of more of the same, wishing that the problem would resolve itself as if free beer, pizza, and fairy tales for all.
This is fantastic and I look forward to reading the whole thing. Will brings a thoughtful curiosity to every topic he discusses.
There was a time when people routinely said "I disagree with <insert politician name here> on things, but he's a good man (or she's a good woman). We'll be ok." Lindsey Graham used to be one of those politicians for me. Perhaps it was his association with McCain, but he was a (somewhat misguided) maverick who cared more about country than party. His utter humiliation to Donald Trump has been something to behold. It is not really hyperbolic to wonder if Trump has some sort of blackmail on him because his mortification has been so public and blatant.
Thanks for this piece. I see it is getting some twitter dot com traction.