Can Lindsey Graham Win Reelection as a Trump Enabler?

The senator’s vulnerability captures exactly what the president has done to the Republican Party.

The most significant long-term story in American politics these days is the realignment that is occurring in a few traditionally red states in the South like Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and possibly even Texas. One state at the heart of the Confederacy that isn’t feeling that transition is South Carolina. No one doubts that Donald Trump will win there in 2020, even if his margin is lower than his 14 point win against Clinton in 2016.

It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has a race on his hands for re-election in South Carolina. The most recent poll has him beating Democrat Jaime Harrison by only four points. Perhaps more significantly, prognosticators at both the Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball downgraded the race from “solid” Republican to “likely” Republican. That is a bit of a sea change from Graham’s 15-point victory in 2014.

The Lindsey Must Go super PAC has captured what could make Graham vulnerable in the Trump era by almost exclusively using the senator’s own words.

Anyone who watches politics closely has noticed the dramatic change in Graham over the last three years. He went from calling out Trump’s unfitness for office and palling around with “maverick” John McCain, to being one of the president’s chief enablers. There has been a lot of chatter about what caused that transformation, but we’ll probably never know what really happened. The important thing is to notice “the two faces of Lindsey Graham.” That represents a cause for concern among both Trump defenders and opponents, which is why this ad is so powerful.

Over the last couple of weeks, Graham has been on a bit of a roller coaster when it comes to his relationship with the president. Initially, Trump pressed him to subpoena Barack Obama to testify about whatever it is that the president defines as “Obamagate.” Graham responded by saying that would be a bad idea and could open up a can of worms (hint: Trump could be subpoenaed after he leaves office). Gabriel Sherman reported that the president wasn’t happy with that.

“Trump thinks Lindsey isn’t doing anything on Flynn,” a former White House official said. According to the former official, Trump recently asked prominent allies to tweet negative things about Graham, and he has been complaining that Graham is a hanger-on. “Trump has said, ‘Since [John] McCain died, Lindsey follows me around and shows up to play golf and I don’t even invite him,’” according to the source briefed on the conversation.

Graham snapped back with a compromise offer.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham is preparing to ask his colleagues on the panel for blanket permission to subpoena dozens of Obama and Trump administration officials connected to the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election — and contacts between President Donald Trump’s team and Russians.

His proposal would permit the South Carolina Republican to demand testimony and documents from figures involved in the intelligence associated with the launch of the Russia investigation, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former national intelligence director James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former FBI Director James Comey.

We’ll have to wait and see if that move by the senator appeases the president.

Graham’s situation captures exactly what Trump has done to the Republican Party. The president is running for re-election on a strategy to mobilize the haters. Graham stands no chance of winning without them. But Trump’s strategy is offensive not only to Democrats, but also to the Never Trumpers. There just might not be enough of them in South Carolina to defeat Graham. But they could make this race competitive.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.