Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), once one of Donald Trump’s fiercest Republican critics, experienced a metamorphosis in 2017. The South Carolina Republican, who had been a frequent target of presidential mockery and derision, decided he’d transform himself into one of Trump’s closest Capitol Hill allies.
Graham attacked the press for its criticisms of Trump. Graham promoted conspiracy theories and anti-Clinton nonsense that Trump was likely to favor. Graham pressed the Justice Department to go after the author of the Trump/Russia dossier. Graham golfed with Trump and bragged about how nice Trump’s course was. Even after Graham heard Trump condemn immigrants from, in the president’s words, “shithole countries,” the GOP bit his tongue and refused to publicly acknowledge what we knew to be true.
And yet, in Trump World, Graham’s loyalty is worth effectively nothing. Politico noted last night:
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) “were completely dishonest” in their negotiations on immigration with President Donald Trump, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Monday.
Gidley criticized a bipartisan deal on immigration brought forth by the lawmakers, along with four other senators, for failing to live up to their assurances to the White House.
The White House official added, “To pretend [Graham[ is anything other than someone who wants open borders and amnesty is just disingenuous.” Hogan Gidley had related comments against Graham over the weekend.
Yesterday, in apparent reference to Graham, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders added, “It is almost appalling to me that you have a senator that isn’t stepping up, doing the right thing.”
Graham carried the president’s water for a while. Now Trump World is dumping that water on Graham’s head.
Brian Beutler had a good piece along these lines last week, mocking Graham for his foolish gamble.
The Lindsey Graham Theory of Groveling suffers from two obvious weaknesses that, when combined, fatally undermine it. First, Graham isn’t the only powerful person who seeks to curry favor with Trump by sucking up to him and abetting his misconduct. Second – in both the retelling of those around him, and in a recent, televised meeting with lawmakers at the White House – Trump has proven to be wildly manipulable, careening between incompatible positions whenever he engages new stakeholders. Trump is regularly driven to undermine his administration by Fox News hosts, who know Trump mindlessly live tweets their shows, and thus tailor their programming to influence administration policy and messaging.
Graham has thus humiliated himself for the most fleeting of rewards: convincing Trump of things that a person with less heterodox views can unconvince him of just as quickly.
I’d just add that nearly everyone who tries to curry favor with Trump seems to forget the limits of his loyalty. As we discussed after Reince Priebus’ ouster, Trump’s brief political career has been marked, repeatedly, by his rejection of those who’ve shown him nothing but deference.
The president has made clear he sees loyalty as something he expects to receive, not bestow. Graham apparently thought he was slowly gaining influence and favor in the White House by telling Trump what he wanted to hear. Let this be a lesson to others who follow the senator’s path: loyalty to Trump will go unrewarded.