Graham cracks: A timely take on Trump’s lickspittle surrogate

Illustration by Max Burbank


Ouch. Tough couple of weeks, folks. Brett “Beer’s Most Passionate Spokesman” Kavanaugh seated on the Supreme Court; Melania “Most Bullied Woman on Earth” Trump jauntily cosplaying Nazi-lite “Raiders of the Lost Ark” villain René Belloq; Kanye “Crazy Motherf—-r” West says “Motherf—-r” in the Oval Office for the first time since Millard Fillmore stubbed his toe real bad on the leg of the Resolute desk… and so on.

I’m not going to write about any of that. I’m sick of whatever topic I pick being swept aside by some new, previously unimaginable bit of barbarity. But if I’m not writing about all that, I guess I’m writing near it. My subject is always orbiting awfulness, an eager participant in whatever repulsive shenanigans and skullduggery tops the news cycle any given week. He’s the wacky neighbor in every sitcom, outrageously overacting in a desperate attempt to get their own spin-off show that tapes six summer replacement episodes but only ever airs two. He’s the shortest pro in a massive tag team mud wrestling match who leers at the camera, shouts, “Y’all WISH it was mud,” and then eats a handful.

Yes, I’m talking about Lindsey Graham. What he hell with that dude lately? I mean, it’s not as if I ever liked him, but he had his bi-partisan moments. He’s always been a bit of an oily Machiavellian opportunist, but he’d positioned himself squarely as a sort of junior maverick sidekick to his mentor, John McCain. He was smart, not enslaved to the party line, he never played the moron to appeal to the Republican base, and he was funny. That’s a hell of an accomplishment in the GOP, where Mike Huckabee is considered a laugh riot by a wide swath of elderly, mayonnaise bastards.

He grew up hanging around the bar and pool hall his dad owned, a joint hall called (and I’m not making this up, I don’t write that well) the Sanitary Café. That’s a pretty self-deprecating name for an establishment you might eat at. “Is the place any good?” “Well, not really, but it’s… sanitary.” That’s the kind of politician Graham grew up to be. “Does he have any principles?” “Well, no, but he’s… sanitary.”

You may not recall, most people don’t, but Graham was one of the 58 or so Republicans who ran against Trump for the Republican nomination. He made no attempt to hide his distaste for the Reality TV star from Queens, calling him a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” and “The world’s biggest jackass.” All you needed to do to “Make America Great Again,” said Graham, was, “Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.” When the Republican nomination boiled down to Trump vs. Ted Cruz, he compared the choice to picking between “being shot or poisoned,” and said Trump was “The most unprepared person I’ve ever met to be commander-in-chief.”

On Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States. About six and a half months later, Graham was invited to the Trump National Golf Course in Sterling, Virginia for a friendly 18 holes with his old nemesis. The next day, Graham tweeted, “Really enjoyed a round of golf with President @realDonaldTrump today. President shot a 73 in windy and wet conditions!” and “How bad did he beat me? I did better in the presidential race than today on the golf course! Great fun. Great host.” Admittedly odd, but perhaps Graham was just being an uncommonly good sport. In fact, it would soon become clear what he was doing was the most complete 180 degree turn in modern American political history.

Remember a whole paragraph ago when Graham called Trump a religious bigot? Well, here’s something he said about Trump more recently: “He’s not, in my view, a racist by any stretch of the imagination. I have never heard him make a single racist statement. Not even close.”

It seems hardly a news cycle goes by now without Graham straining to become an ever more obsequious, lickspittle surrogate for Trump, achieving apotheosis at the Kavanaugh hearings. There, his sweat-sheened face a howling bowl of piping hot, aggrieved Cream of Wheat, the man who once fancied himself Robin to John McCain’s Batman became Reek to Donald Trump’s Ramsay Bolton.

Why? Why this grossly undignified, self-flagellating performance? To what end Graham’s grand reverse-hero’s-journey?

It’s widely speculated that Trump promised Graham Jeff Sessions’ job. I’ll admit, the Attorney General’s office would be a real plum, far more impressive than being one of 100 senators, but I don’t buy it. The fateful Columbus Day round of golf took place over a year ago, and despite near daily presidential abuse, Sessions still has a job. It’s almost as if Trump enjoys having America’s favorite racist garden gnome to kick around. Besides, the theory that Graham’s behavior can be attributed to a pragmatically amoral lust for increased power and stature doesn’t account for one critical bit of evidence: Graham’s fear.

The man is terrified. You can smell it oozing off his lurching body language, his stuttering, shrieking, sneering defense of Trump’s handpicked, terrible choice for the Supreme Court. Graham stank of panic as far back as June when, during an interview on CNN, he said, “If you don’t like me working with President Trump to make the world a better place, I don’t give a shit.”

The only thing he’s working on with Donald Trump is whatever it takes to go another 24 hours without the president telling the world what he told Graham on that golf course. Ever since that day, Lindsey’s been playing strictly to an audience of one. Trump knows something, and he must have ironclad proof, because Graham is a lifelong professional weasel and could squirm out of anything that wasn’t absolutely incontrovertible. Whatever it is, it’s jaw-droppingly bad, because today’s Republicans routinely walk away unscathed from openly racist behavior, lies, tax fraud, and credible accusations of sexual harassment and assault. When it comes out (and it will, Lindsay, it will, because no one remains in Trump’s orbit very long without burning up), there will be no hole on earth deep enough to hide the senior senator from South Carolina.

Lindsey Graham doesn’t sound so smart these days. And he no longer even tries to be funny. He’s in a perpetual state of panic. Because while no one has ever been exactly enthusiastic about him, he always seemed at least… sanitary. And if Trump takes that away? He won’t just be disgraced. He’ll have nothing left at all.

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