I swear to Dog, when this is all over — if it ever really is over — I am sending my exhausted, old thesaurus on a first-class trip to some isolated, sun-drenched paradise where it only has to come up with words for “More rum, please” and “Dessert sounds lovely.”
The poor sot certainly deserves a vacation. It has for many long years been my constant companion in a quest to find new and interesting ways to describe the daily parade of irredeemable hypocrisy put forth by congressional Republicans. I fear it might be too late to heal my trusty word guide, however; Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina, may have finally battered its stout hardcover into the pulp from whence it came.
Lindsey, Lindsey, Lindsey, what are we to do with you? Charlatan, phony, trickster, backslider, deceiver, fraud, imposter… all these possible substitutions for “hypocrite” are now but smoking holes on the page because of Senator Graham and his mind-erasing embrace of all things Trump.
If Trump ever actually shot someone on 5th Avenue, Graham would be there to polish the bullets — but only after spending years denouncing murder as wrong and evil. When asked about his sudden reversal on homicide, Graham would smile and smile. “What happened to me?” he would ask, as he did in Greenville, South Carolina, when speaking to a pro-Trump audience back in February of 2019. “Not a damn thing.”
Mountebank, inveigler, scammer, sham, pettifogger… more smoking holes on the page. There is no bottom to this drawling barrel, it seems. That Greenville crowd gave him a standing ovation after that remark, and Trump’s rabid supporters have embraced him as a brother. Still, I wonder how he manages the bathroom mirror every morning. He appears to be shaving every day. The trick, I imagine, is avoiding looking into your own reflected eyes for any length of time.
There was a stretch, during the 2016 presidential election in which Graham was a candidate for a time, when he described Donald Trump with properly cutting accuracy. “The more you know about Donald Trump, the less likely you are to vote for him,” Graham told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in March of that year. “The more you know about his business enterprises, the less successful he looks.”
Trump, for his part, made no bones about his feelings about Graham during that race. “I think Lindsey Graham is a disgrace,” Trump told a February 2016 crowd in Graham’s own back yard of South Carolina, “and I think you have one of the worst representatives of any representative in the United States, and I don’t think he should run. I don’t think he could run for dog catcher in this state and win again. I really don’t. Other than that, I think he’s wonderful.”
That was then, as a sage once said, and this is now. Trump’s open defiance of the House impeachment inquiry into his administration’s Ukraine dealings has hurled the country into a no-bullshit constitutional crisis. While most congressional Republicans are either standing mute or offering tepid rationalizations for Trump’s actions, Graham stands the gaff with full-throated support.
Claiming that the impeachment of Trump would “destroy the nation for no good reason,” Graham has invited Trump attorney and notorious fabulist Rudy Giuliani to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the former New York City mayor will be free to spray his convoluted and contradictory conspiracy theories into the wind. “I think Rudy’s got a story to tell,” Graham told the hosts of Fox & Friends. So did Rasputin.
“This seems to me like a political setup,” said Graham on the CBS news show “Face the Nation” in late September. “This is all hearsay. You can’t get a parking ticket conviction based on hearsay.” Speaking to The Washington Post on October 3, Graham claimed Trump sounded like a “normal person” during the July 25 phone call in which Trump pushed Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden. “If you take half of my phone calls with him,” said Graham, “it wouldn’t read as cleanly and nicely.”
That part, at least, I believe completely… but it is certainly a far cry from the fire-and-brimstone tone Graham took while serving as one of the House managers during the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
“Impeachment is not about punishment,” Graham piously intoned in a speech he delivered from the floor of the Senate during Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999. “Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office. You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role.”
Evolution is fascinating, don’t you think? Especially when it goes backwards. Two decades ago, Graham was all in for making honor and integrity the watchwords for basic presidential behavior. I have no complaint with that. Removing a president for acting out of the bounds of their role even in the absence of a criminal conviction is, once again, an area where 1999 Lindsey and I share common ground. Where did that Lindsey go? Oh, right: Mar-a-Lago.
“To set aside an election is a very scary thought in a democracy,” concluded Graham that day in 1999. “I do not agree with this president on most major policy initiatives. I did not vote for this president. But he won. He won twice. To undo that election is tough.”
Yet there he stood, House Manager Graham, laboring to “undo” the presidency of Bill Clinton as an act of “cleansing” in the name of “honor and integrity.” Now? Doing so to Trump will “destroy the country for no good reason.” Move along, nothing to see here.
To be sure, Graham is not the only congressional Republican trying the patience of my thesaurus on the matter of hypocrisy. A pile of Republicans who were all in for the power of congressional oversight during the preposterous Benghazi investigation against the Obama administration are singing quite a different tune now that a fellow Republican is under scrutiny. Messrs. Pompeo, Jordan and Gowdy: Your table is ready.
Asking “Why?” at this juncture feels like a car accident in my head. Power politics in the raw, galactic shamelessness, fear of exposure and defeat, and the sense that they’ve already carried so much water for this small fraction of a president that reversal now is unthinkable. As to Graham’s specific motivations, some say he changed after Sen. John McCain died; the passing of one of Trump’s chief nemeses seems to have freed Graham to plumb the depths of his inner toady. Others believe the hard right saw him as too squishy for their taste, leaving him vulnerable to a primary challenge.
In any event, “Why?” is now academic. It happened: Lindsey Graham chose the short-term course that is terrible for the country but good for Lindsey Graham. He is doing what most elected Republicans are doing, only much louder and, amazingly enough, with even less shame.
Yet this choice has also bought Graham some very specific short-term trouble. Rudy Giuliani’s “shadow diplomacy” in Ukraine on Trump’s behalf has exploded into a whole constellation of new revelations after two of Giuliani’s henchmen were arrested trying to flee the country. It appears Giuliani was set to meet these men in Vienna for reasons not yet clarified. They have also been subpoenaed by the House to testify in the Ukraine affair. According to ABC News, Giuliani’s relationship with the pair is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation in New York.
Graham’s invitation to have Giuliani testify before his committee is looking especially fascinating at this point: If matters continue to unspool in the current fashion, Trump may become the first president in U.S. history forced to pardon his own attorney. Watching Lindsey and Rudy try to explain all this away during a Senate committee hearing will be mandatory television if it actually happens.
Lindsey Graham knows who and what Donald Trump is, because he told us. Then, when it was convenient, Graham turned his coat and helped grease the rails for every act of piracy and fraud perpetrated by this administration. He is not alone, but he leads the way.
There’s a word for that, too: quisling. Thank you, thesaurus. You’ve never let me down.