I worked for Lindsey Graham’s 2016 presidential campaign as his national director of ballot access and delegates. As part of his senior staff, I spent one-on-one time with Graham advising him on different political initiatives related to getting him on every primary ballot and securing delegates for the Republican convention. I worked for him because I saw him at the time as a man of moral clout who was unafraid to speak his mind and who would be a good guide for the American people.
Needless to say, I was wrong.
Since Donald Trump took office, Graham, the man who told America that Donald Trump was nothing more than a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” has morphed into one of the most fawning Trump sycophants in the entire GOP herd.
When I speak to former colleagues of mine who are—or were—in the Republican sphere that includes Graham, the conversation about “what happened to Lindsey Graham?” usually ends with the conclusion that he is scared to death of what life would be like if he wasn’t a U.S. senator.
In an interview in February 2019, Graham was asked why he had such a dramatic shift of allegiance towards Donald Trump. His answer: “From my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this.” When asked what “this” meant, he said “try to be relevant.”
It seems that for Graham, changing one’s operational code to fit the political climate so as to stay close to power is not just acceptable—it’s part of his inherent identity. The flippant manner in which he speaks about not standing on principles makes it clear how he could go from telling Americans they should “tell Donald Trump to go to hell” to effectively licking Trump’s boots on command.
Every politician moves and shakes in some way—it’s the nature of the beast. But for Graham, his song and dance has been more aggressive than most. It includes lies, over-the-top rhetoric, immoral conduct, and a direct assault on our democratic institutions.
Some of the highlights: aggressively encouraging Trump to subvert the Constitution by redirecting Congressionally appointed money; allowing his campaign team to go unpunished for using a racist dog-whistle against Jamie Harrison; failing to stand against Trump’s attacks on John McCain when his old friend passed away; reneging on his word that he wouldn’t support a SCOTUS appointment in the last year of a presidential campaign; mocking the juror oath he took for Trump’s impeachment hearing.
Add it up, and you have a man of low character.
Yet somehow, Graham has found a new low in the waning days of Trump’s presidency.
Lindsey Graham has sought to have legally cast ballots excluded from the vote count in Georgia. This goes beyond indulging Trump’s conspiracy theories and into the realm of actively trying to undermine the democratic process.
On Monday evening, the Washington Post reported on the ongoing audit of Georgia’s election results. Republicans have been exerting pressure on Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to throw out ballots. Donald Trump has been spreading conspiracy theories and lies about the result in Georgia. And Lindsey Graham has been on the phone with Secretary Raffensperger asking him if he has the power to exclude all mail ballots in counties with higher rates of non-matching signatures.
The Post reports that Secretary Raffensperger was “stunned” by Graham’s comments to exclude ballots and quotes him saying, “it sure looked like he [Lindsey Graham] was wanting to go down that road.”
For the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to suggest to a Secretary of State that thousands of ballots should be thrown out is outrageous. Graham is not just dabbling in illegal behavior, he is seeking to undermine the bedrock of our republic: free and fair elections.
If Lindsey Graham had any sense of shame, he would resign from the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. And since he obviously does not, there should be a Senate ethics inquiry into this conduct.
But of course, that won’t happen, either.
Lindsey Graham seems not to care that liberal self-governance is a fragile system. And this can’t be a case of ignorance: Graham knows better. After all, he spent much of his political life fighting with John McCain for people in countries who do not have democratic rule.
But what if even that previous incarnation of Graham was a facade, too? Because knowing what we do now about Graham, it seems possible—likely, even—that his association with McCain was based on rank opportunism, too. After all, McCain was a heavy hitter. His advice was sought from people in all corners of our government and democratic governments around the world. He was the party’s standard bearer in 2008 and was, by universal acclaim, a national treasure. Perhaps Graham’s association with him was just the easiest route to Graham becoming “relevant.”
What several years ago was a head scratching question—What happened to Lindsey Graham?—is now pretty clear. For Graham, being a United States Senator isn’t about helping Americans or advancing principles. It’s about swimming in the pool of power and feeding off the scraps the big fish leave behind. In short: Lindsey Graham is everything that’s wrong with our political system.
There’s a great book called Character Is Destiny. It begins:
It is your character, and your character alone, that will make your life happy or unhappy. That is all that really passes for destiny. And you choose it. No one else can give it to you or deny it to you. No rival can steal it from you. And no friend can give it to you. Others can encourage you to make the right choices or discourage you. But you choose.
I wonder what Lindsey Graham thinks about that advice. After all, it comes from a man who was one of the most relevant leaders of his generation.