Lindsey Graham has gone from one of Trump’s fiercest critics to an embarrassing sycophant in the blink of an eye. Within a year of Trump’s presidency, he disavowed every negative thing he said on the campaign trail, leading many pundits to wonder what had happened – that maybe he had been blackmailed by Trump or the Russians who hacked his phone. He’s even pivoted back and forth as recently as the last few weeks – rebuking the administration’s sudden decision to withdraw from northern Syria only to say he was okay with it days later. There still is one reason for him to bow down to Donald Trump – though it may not hold up for much longer – and that’s re-election in his home state in 2020.
It’s not much of a good reason – Graham has seniority in the Senate and South Carolina is still reliably red, while Donald Trump’s criminal scandals are making him more of a liability for Republicans every day. Graham himself now mostly stands out in people’s minds for his angry tirade during the Kavanaugh hearing – as he silenced the judge’s accusers and paved the road for one of the most controversial court picks in recent history. This is, of course, the other reason for him to suck up to Trump while he can. Unfortunately, he’s now found himself in a typical Republican dilemma: Continue to play Trump’s toadie, or go back to criticizing him.
However he plays that, it means he’s not always going to be reliable to the administration – defying Trump enough to end up the butt of one of his tweets. Graham is still favored to win in 2020, but the race isn’t exactly swinging in his direction. He’s now in roughly the same spot fellow Republican senators Susan Collins and Martha McSally have already found themselves in – with an incumbent approval rating of 35% – even worse than Donald Trump. Meanwhile, his Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison is steadily rising in the polls, narrowing Graham’s lead to just seven points. Harrison also raised a record $2.1 million this quarter, breaking fundraising records in the state in both the current and previous quarter.
What also doesn’t work out for Graham is that while his state may be full of Trumpers, they’re also experiencing the effects of Trump’s trade war firsthand – one that Graham fully supports- even if it means supporting layoffs in his home state and doing nothing to help the farmers affected by the rising prices. In turn, Graham will be the face that voters put on these problems rather than Trump. Jaime Harrison can realistically win this – and winning would make South Carolina the first state in the nation to be represented by two African-American senators.
James Sullivan is the assistant editor of Brain World Magazine and an advocate of science-based policy making