The Predictable Wrath of Lindsay Graham

Having watched the nasty little trick Sen. Lindsay Graham pulled on a hapless Chuck Hagel during yesterday’s confirmation hearings (asking him to “name” senators who were “intimidated” by the “Jewish Lobby,” a question that has about four reasons for being impossible to answer), I have to say Charles Pierce really called it earlier this week:

I know that all is cool reason in Republican circles, and nobody’s listening any more to the old people on the Medicare scooters who mistake bags of Earl Grey for millinery, but if you want to see the walking, living, sweating, mewling manifestation of still runnin’ a’skeered, take a gander these days at Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. This is a man with the gallows in his eyes, Because he hasn’t been entirely insane, and because South Carolina’s wingbits have been deprived of their real campeon de loco, Jim DeMint, and because of, you know, that conspicuous longtime bachelorhood issue, Graham has become something of a target.

Pierce quotes some of Graham’s more inflammatory recent utterances and predicts:

I mention all this because he’s going to get a crack at Chuck Hagel on Thursday, which may bring about the mother of all public tantrums. Somebody give him a cookie and then primary him, just to put him out of his misery.

Hillary Clinton cannot, of course, speak in as uninhibited a fashion as us writers who ain’t running for anything, but she provided AP with a take on her recent tormenters that was probably aimed at Graham more than anyone else:

Clinton faced a barrage of hostile questions about Benghazi from Republican lawmakers when she testified before Congress recently in appearances that were delayed from December because of illness. Afterward, some lawmakers continued to accuse her and the administration of withholding evidence. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., told a television interviewer that he thought Clinton was getting “away with murder.”

In the interview, Clinton had little patience for such allegations.

“There are some people in politics and in the press who can’t be confused by the facts,” she said. “They just will not live in an evidence-based world. And that’s regrettable. It’s regrettable for our political system and for the people who serve our government in very dangerous, difficult circumstances.”

None of this would for a moment deter Graham, who is a highly experienced practitioner of the art of buying himself space for the occasional act of independence from his party’s “base” by behaving as poorly as possible in partisan dust-ups. It’s the same number Rudy Giuliani used to work to death, and it was Chris Christie’s main asset until he threw it away (temporarily, I would suspect) by praising Barack Obama during the Sandy relief and recovery effort.

Graham used to be pretty adept at this game, as noted by Geoff Earle in a 2005 Washington Monthly profile of him as a “swing conservative” in the Senate. Indeed, Earle mentions Hillary Clinton as someone Graham liked to work with selectively.

But now it takes more smoke in the air to cover for, say, participating in a comprehensive immigration reform effort. Until the coast is clear down in South Carolina, I think we’ll see a lot more tantrums from Graham. He’s probably saving an Obama impeachment effort as a trump card. It worked for him in the 90s.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.