DeMarco: Lindsey Graham, the weathervane of the New Republican Party

The man who was: 26 March 2013

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

In September 2009, I attended a town hall meeting in the gymnasium of Francis Marion University featuring Lindsey Graham. It was about six weeks after the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Graham was the only Republican senator on the Judiciary Committee to vote for her and one of nine Republicans to vote in favor in the full Senate. When he took questions from the audience, an older man sitting behind me in the bleachers stood and grimly asked, “Why did you vote for that judge,” and here he paused to derisively enunciate each syllable, “SOH-TOH-MAAY-ORR”

Rather than try to placate his disappointed supporter, Graham forcefully rebutted him. “Elections have consequences,” he shot back. “If you don’t want liberal judges on the court, then elect a Republican president. I don’t agree with Justice Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy, but my job as a senator is to determine whether she is qualified. She is qualified, so I voted for her.”

Of the many conversations I have heard and participated in with my elected representatives, this exchange stands out as one of the best. Graham had a chance to dodge or pander; instead he was truthful and forthright.

Back then Graham was keeping company with another maverick senator, John McCain, and although they are both more conservative than I, I admired their respect for their office and their roles as guardians of our democracy.

I was also heartened by Graham’s eviscerations of Donald Trump during his short-lived presidential campaign in 2015. Back when he was speaking his mind he said things like, “You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell,” and “He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” He also tweeted “I also cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump because I do not believe he is a reliable Republican conservative nor has he displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as Commander in Chief.” That statement strikes me as remarkable for two reasons. First, for its eerie prescience in light of the January 6th attack. Second, for Graham’s complete abandonment of his own good advice: after Trump’s election, he became one of the president’s closest allies.

Many commentators have rightly criticized Graham for his lack of integrity. But, if you agree with the premise that we get the leaders we deserve, then Graham is not the only one at fault. Elections, as Graham once frequently reminded us, do have consequences. We could have elected Graham as president. A Graham-Clinton match-up in 2016 would have been an interesting and difficult choice for me. But our enthusiasms and our votes buoyed other candidates in the 2016 Republican primary. Graham never polled above 1% and dropped out in December 2015. I saw most of the remaining front-runners as they came through Florence in early 2016 including Kasich, Carson, Rubio, Cruz and Trump. Trump’s crowd almost filled Florence Center, holding as many supporters as all his rivals combined and more.

Graham got the message: he could no longer speak his mind about Trump and remain a senator. The Republican Party had moved far enough from him, especially from his conciliatory and bipartisan approach on immigration, that he risked a successful challenge by a conservative Trump supporter in the 2020 primary if he didn’t move with the party.

If you are a Democrat, you should take this as a lesson. In 2016, Democrats flirted with an extremely progressive candidate in Bernie Sanders, a man who described himself as a democratic socialist. The farther to the edge your standard bearers are, the harder it is for idiosyncratic politicians like Graham to remain true to themselves.

Do we want our parties to be cults of personality in which the thing that trumps (ironic that that’s the right word here) all is one’s allegiance to the party leader? How have we come to the place that acquiescing to Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 election is the current Republican litmus test?

The wholesale transformation of the Republican party is summed up in Graham’s suppression of his better instincts by voting against the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson. It’s worth noting that just last year, Graham voted to confirm Jackson as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit. That was an under-the-radar vote that he knew few of his base would notice. But with the voters watching, he renounced the principle that had guided him for more than two decades and voted against her.

If you are a Republican, understand how I offer this assessment. My hope is for both parties to be strong. My desire is that Republicans will right the ship and recognize their mistake in supporting a president who is actively threatening the fabric of our democracy (which, I fear, is more delicate than I learned in school).

Our country is more secure and more likely to thrive when the two parties allow representatives to vote their consciences. Demanding ideological purity creates parties for which compromise is impossible and intransigence is perversely celebrated. Since absolute victory is rare in policy debates, stymieing the opposition has become the accepted substitute for legislating. Democrats are not immune. Both parties have succumbed to such a rigid dichotomy on the issue of abortion that pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans, once fairly common in Congress, are virtually extinct.

We cannot be party robots. Our future lies with men and women like Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney who put country over party. The Graham of old demonstrated similar laudable conviction. His recent choice to elevate his party over country has indelibly stained his legacy.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, S.C. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. A version of this column appeared in the April 27th, 2022, edition of the Florence Morning News.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Something about this made me think of this old clip, from May 15, 2007. It’s John McCain at an event in the Vista, calling Lindsey “that little jerk,” which was the way he frequently referred to friends and allies. But it’s the question that made me think of it: Where, indeed, is that little jerk? What happened to him?

12 thoughts on “DeMarco: Lindsey Graham, the weathervane of the New Republican Party

  1. Doug Ross

    Lindsey didn’t change… I wrote this on this blog in 2012 — long before Trump,

    “Doug Ross
    November 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm
    If you don’t like Lindsey Graham’s opinion, just wait until the next time he’s on tv.
    I think there’s a market in South Carolina for weathervanes in the shape of Lindsey Graham’s face.”

    —–

    He has and always will be a political chameleon. He jumped on the Obama bandwagon when it suited him and jumped off whenever the next election came around. He and McCain were exactly what they always were – politicians without any soul – self serving hypocrites. Trump is a by-product of the Grahams and McCains, not the driving force.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Folks, I’m sure y’all will remember that Doug never liked Lindsey. And it never seemed to me that Doug’s problem was the senator’s inconsistency.

      Doug objected to things Lindsey was constant about — in some cases things that it took a lot of guts, as a South Carolina Republican, to be constant about. Such as his hard work over years for rational, comprehensive immigration reform. Doug never liked that, just as he adamantly disagreed with Graham on national security matters.

      It would be interesting if Doug could cite a case in which he agreed with Graham on military matters, as a demonstration of this deplorable “weathervane” quality. Maybe he can. If so, it will be interesting…

      But for the most part, that’s an area where both men have been quite consistent — and quite at odds with each other…

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        Wait, are you asking me to change MY opinions on military, immigration, etc. to match Lindsey’s? They never have and never will. I watched Lindsey switch back and forth from an anti-Obama far right Republican when he was running to Obama’s best buddy when Obama won. I watched him flip flop on Trump to the most extreme degree once Trump won.

        I was calling Lindsey out as far back as 2008 for his blatant political hypocrisy. You won’t find anyone who knows my opinions who can say that about me.

        I was right then and I’m right now. He’s a scam artist like Trump who knows how to play to his base when he needs to. Sorry you were too blinded by his pro-military hawkishness (while riding behind a desk) and his buddy-buddy show with McCain (the fake “maverick” who always got back on the Republican party bus when he needed to).

        Reply
        1. Doug Ross

          I never liked Lindsey because of his stance on issues,… but I also didn’t like him because of his blatant self=preservation style politics. The former is an issue with his intellect, the latter with his character. He’s a snake in the grass.

          Reply
  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Here’s my obligatory comment disagreeing with Paul, as part of my ongoing effort to make sure everyone understands that “op-ed” is distinct from “ed.”

    Paul writes, “His recent choice to elevate his party over country has indelibly stained his legacy.”

    That sentence is wrong on a number of levels.

    First, Lindsey hasn’t done this for his party or any other group. He’s done it for himself, in an act of pure self-promotion — or perhaps I should say “self-preservation,” in the political sense. But of course in the deeper sense, he hasn’t preserved himself at all. He has engaged in a vicious form of self-negation.

    As y’all know, I’m no fan of party loyalty. But at least it involves dedication to something besides yourself. Graham was looking out for his party when he tried to defend it from Trumpism. Then, he gave up — spectacularly.

    Second, he has clearly degraded his party, not “elevated” it…

    Reply
  3. bud

    Paul you me until you basically called Bernie Sanders a left wing extremist version of Trump. Most of what Bernie proposes doing are quite normal. Health insurance for all. A curtailment of extreme income inequality. A living wage for all. A clean environment. Bernie would have NEVER invoked storming the capitol. This type of false equivalency narrative is not helpful.

    Reply
    1. Doug Ross

      Bernie is a loyal Democrat who got back in line once he lost the primary. If he was true to his beliefs he would have run against Biden as a third party candidate. Instead, he bowed down to Uncle Joe and left his ideals in the dust. Another career politician who talks a good game but knows what he has to do to stay in office. An angry coward with a big mouth and no guts.

      Reply
      1. Barry

        Running against bIden would have been political suicide. I’m glad he didn’t do that because that would not make any sense.

        Reply
        1. Doug Ross

          Political suicide in what way? He’s 80 years old. His webpage on Congress.gov says he is Independent. He won his Senate seat with 67% vote in 2018. If he wanted to run again in 2024, he’d win easily — Vermonters like independents. He was about as untouchable as you can be in politics. And yet he chose to give up on all those major issues that he claimed to support by kneeling to Joe Biden. He was duped like the rest of the Democrats. Or, more likely, he really didn’t care.

          Reply
  4. Ken

    ” The farther to the edge your standard bearers are, the harder it is for idiosyncratic politicians like Graham to remain true to themselves.”

    So …
    the Dems need intervene to save Graham from himself.
    Gotcha.

    Just this:
    How sure are you that Graham has a self to be true to??

    Reply
  5. Tom Stickler

    A LTE I wrote in 2009:
    The Sun News headline in the June 4th edition caught my eye: “Graham Reprimands Sotomayor – Senator says judge pick owes U.S. an explanation.”
    The article went on that Sen. Graham had criticized Judge Sotomayor during her “courtesy call” upon our Senator for her statement eight years ago that, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
    If Sen. Graham had actually read the transcript of that speech before the UC-Berkeley Law School rather than working from the Republican National Committee talking points memo, he would have realized that her remarks were specific to cases dealing with discrimination, not a blanket claim of moral superiority.
    I’m puzzled why Sen. Graham would take such offense to Judge Sotomayor’s comments, yet made no objection to Judge Samuel Alito’s similar testimony during his confirmation hearing to the U.S. Supreme Court before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 11, 2005. Sen. Tom Coburn asked Judge Alito “Can you comment just about Sam Alito, and what he cares about, and let us see a little bit of your heart and what’s important to you in life?”
    After some remarks about his immigrant heritage, Alito replied, “When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.”
    Now, Sen. Graham was a member of that Judiciary Committee. The transcript does not indicate whether Sen. Graham was actually present when Alito gave the above testimony. Nevertheless, when it came time for Sen. Graham to question Alito, his remarks were generally quite complimentary. Oh, he did ask Alito whether he was a “closet bigot.”
    Alito denied it, and Graham replied, “No, sir, you’re not. And you know why I believe that? Not because you just said it — but that’s a good enough reason, because you seem to be a decent, honorable man.”
    Well, I guess Sen. Graham is more than willing to accept a white male at face value, but a Latina “Has some ‘splainin’ to do!”

    Reply

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