October 13, 2019

The Banality of Lindsey Graham

“It may be hard to believe now, but Lindsey Graham was once considered a relative moderate. During the Obama years, the South Carolina senator backed legislation that would create a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, worked with Democrats on proposals to tackle climate change, and voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. The Obama White House offered some praise for Graham’s friendly approach in 2010 while conservatives lambasted him as “Obama Lite” and “Lindsey Grahamnesty.”

That version of Graham wasn’t apparent when he appeared on Fox News last week. President Donald Trump was facing intense backlash for calling on four young nonwhite Democratic congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” While some Republicans tried to distance themselves from those remarks, Graham did the opposite. “We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists,” he complained. “They hate Israel. They hate our own country. They’re calling the guards along our border—Border Patrol agents—concentration camp guards. They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America.”

What happened to Lindsey Graham? Many journalists have spent the last two years trying to answer the question. New York magazine’s Lisa Miller cast him as a people-pleaser who’s long tried to build ties with both his party’s right flank and centrist Democrats. CNN placed him alongside other moderate GOP senators who’ve bowed to the president’s grip on the party base. The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich hinted that it was pure self-interest. Perhaps the most succinct analysis came from Harper’s, which simply listed 21 ways Graham had described Trump over the past three years. It begins with “a race-baiting, xenophobic bigot” and ends with “a potential recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.””

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