Discover more from PREVAIL by Greg Olear
Lindsey Graham is Trump's Hostage
There is no other rational explanation for his complete 180.
“YOU KNOW HOW you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell!” This is what Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, told Alisyn Camerota on CNN’s New Day on 8 December 2015—four full years ago.
“He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot,” Graham continued. “He doesn't represent my party. He doesn't represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for….He's the [ISIS] Man of the Year.” The senator rightly pegged Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric as cold political calculus of the basest kind: “What Mr. Trump is doing—and I don't think he has a clue about anything—he's just just trying to get his numbers up and get the biggest reaction he can. He is helping the enemy of this nation.”
And then, the money shot: “I'd rather lose without Donald Trump than try to win with with him,” Graham said. “I wish he would leave the party. I don't care if he runs as an independent. If we lose the 2016 election, so be it. I want to be in a category of the one percent who said ‘B.S., this is not who we are at a party, this is not who we are as a nation.’” Five months later, as Trump began his Russian-fueled ascendancy, Graham doubled down:
These were not isolated incidents, either. Graham pretty clearly despised Trump, during the campaign and well after the election, and he wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings. To Democrats, he was one of the few Republicans who seemed to get it. I cited Graham and his good friend John McCain as “patriotic Republicans who have boldly stood up to Trumpism” in my first serious anti-Trump piece in January of 2017. Three months later, a friend who followed the Trump/Russia scandal wrote me: “I have to say, though I don't agree with his politics, I think Lindsay Graham is often hilarious.” Graham continued to hammer Trump well into 2017, especially after the hate rally in Charlottesville that August.
And then, quite suddenly, on 9 October 2017, it all changed. The conversion of Lindsey Graham did not occur on the road to Damascus, like Paul of Tarsus, but on the back nine of the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia. And he did not come to Jesus, but to the Antichrist.
At the time, I thought Graham was paying lip service to a pathologically insecure windbag—making a few complimentary remarks to woo the easily wooable Trump. Politics 101. Machiavelli stuff. Hadn’t Jimmy Carter tried the same thing? In hindsight, however, it is clear that Trump was the one who made the power move. Judging by Graham’s odd behavior since that fateful day, what went down on the links was the homeland equivalent of “I’d like you to do me a favor, though.” Since 9 October 2017, Lindsey Graham has become Trump’s unlikeliest champion.
But there is something off about the presentation, something inauthentic. To me, Lindsey Graham presents as Trump’s hostage. He is Jesse Pinkman, locked in Uncle Jack’s oubliette, forced by Todd to make meth all day. He is an American POW in an orange jump suit, kneeling before a hooded terrorist with a scimitar, mumbling that the United States is the Great Satan, and wow are his captors treating him well. Or, in more colorful terms:
LIKE HIS GOP colleague Rand Paul, who experienced a similarly dramatic reversal on Trump, Lindsey Graham now functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Vladimir Putin. For propaganda purposes, his support of Trump is particularly valuable, as Graham for years enjoyed a reputation as a reasonable, considerate Republican. He is not Jim Jordan or Devin Nunes or Matt Gaetz or even Paul Ryan. He was Robin to his late friend John McCain’s Batman.
And his job now, it appears, is to angrily pop off, to provide fodder for the Twitterati. The gambit works like this: Graham will say something completely insane about Trump, something we know damned well he doesn’t actually believe. The press will report it. An hour or so later, someone will post a video of a younger, more sober Lindsey Graham contradicting the crazy statement.
It’s quite the sad spectacle. When he speaks to the press, Lindsey Graham rants. His cheeks flush red. He sweats. To me, he looks like he’s three sheets to the wind. I can practically smell the booze through the TV screen. I wish the reporters would confirm my suspicions, because that seems like an important detail. “Graham, who appeared intoxicated, said…”
So many people pointed out the hypocrisy of the below tweet that “Jared and Ivanka”—brazen grifters who made a whopping $82 million last year trading on their family connections—trended on Twitter all that afternoon:
Fun as it is to pile on, poking holes in his flimsy arguments, we must instead ask: Why is Graham doing this? What did Trump say to him on the golf course? What is the dirt?
He’s in the closet, and he can’t get elected in South Carolina if he’s openly gay. This is the boilerplate explanation, but it rings hollow. First of all, it’s almost twenty fucking twenty. Does anyone actually care? Also, if every single person on social media is aware of Graham’s long-rumored sexual orientation, is it really feasible that residents of South Carolina are somehow in the dark about him being (allegedly) in the closet? No, that can’t be it.
So, like, what?
It’s true that the RNC emails were hacked by Russia but never released. It’s true that Graham thinks he’s been a victim of “unmasking,” and has grilled various IC heads about this. It’s true that there were dirty rubles pouring into his campaign. Alas, it’s also true that in this climate, when a third of the country is totally fine with seditious extortion by the president, kompromat’s gotta be way stronger than that. The guy is acting like members of his family are locked away in some dank Mar-a-Lago dungeon—like he’s getting severed fingers mailed to him.
We are left with this:
Before writing the Cartel trilogy and establishing residence on the New York Times best-seller list, Don Winslow was a private investigator. He really does have friends in federal law enforcement. He’s a smart guy, and he knows his stuff. Furthermore, that tweet has been up for almost two months, and Lindsey Graham—who is almost certainly aware of it, tagged as he is by a blue-check account—has made no move to have it stricken from the record. Why not? Unlike the bogus-lawsuit-loving Devin Nunes, who is suing a pretend cow, Graham is a good attorney, and thus familiar with the concept of discovery. He also understands that it ain’t libel if it’s the truth.
All of this is almost enough to make me feel sympathy for Lindsey Graham. Blackmail is a terrible thing. And he certainly looks like he’s been through the wringer. Then I remember his petty rant at the Brett Kavanaugh hearing—his Twitter picture is still the snapshot of him with the newest Supreme Court Justice, who remains in debt to mysterious creditors and, oh yes, is a sexual assailant—and his casual and dangerous attacks on the whistleblower, and I am forced to recalibrate my inner empathy meter. If Winslow’s source is right, then Graham did something so heinous, so beyond the pale, that he is willing to sacrifice his reputation, his health, his political power, the well-being of every woman in the country, and last but not least, the national security of the United States, to keep it under wraps. He isn’t worthy of sympathy—or mercy.
Graham’s Twitter prophesy has come to pass—but with an O. Henry-style twist. Yes, the GOP nominated Trump. But it’s Lindsey Graham who has been destroyed…and he deserves it.