Like a hissing possum tethered firmly to the bottom of a dumpster with its oddly human little claws, Lindsey Graham has managed to anchor himself to Donald Trump’s flapping coattails and ride them all the way to a fourth term as Senator, edging out Democratic candidate Jaime Harrison with 56.6 percent of the South Carolina vote.
Since 1994, Lindsey Graham has made a political career of standing behind louder men. First, it was legendary racist Strom Thurmond, who advocated for Graham’s election to Congress in 1994 and whose Senate seat Graham would eventually fill. After that, it was John McCain, and then, finally, Donald Trump. Despite the protestations of a growing subset of South Carolinian voters, Graham, who once championed himself as Republican willing to work alongside Democrats for the good of his constituents, will presumably go back to actually working alongside some of the shittiest politicians in history to further deepen the divides between the American people.
“Is this Watergate or Peyton Place?” Graham asked during the Clinton impeachment hearings, as the only Republican to vote against one of the articles of impeachment, positioning himself as what the Washington Post described as “the panel’s preeminent voice of reason.” Until very recently, Graham’s entire career rested on a thick Southern drawl and an outward “Aw-shucks-can’t-we-find-some-middle-ground?” appeal to bipartisanship on issues like immigration—even as he simultaneously worked to turn back the clock on issues like gay rights (Graham was a vocal opponent of marriage equality and continues to harp on the subject in his stump speeches) and Roe v. Wade (he sponsored the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2015 and added his name to a petition for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe in 2020).
Graham was once an outspoken critic of the Tea Party who declined to support Trump in 2016, citing Trump’s cynical mocking of McCain’s past as a POW. However, his relationship with the administration “flourished from the date McCain was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer,” according to the Guardian.
That was the context—an obvious, shameless display of weak-willed coattail hopping—in which Jaime Harrison challenged Graham for his Senate seat. “I used to listen to Lindsey Graham and nod my head along. Now I realize that although he excels at sassy soundbites, he lacks the strength to stand up for what matters,” former supporter Benjamin Edwards recently told The Washington Post. “Consider his friendship with the late John McCain and the way he stood limply by while President Trump insulted him. In the South Carolina I come from, we stand up for our friends,” Edwards continued, a sentiment that turned out to be true in terms of South Carolina standing up for its longtime relationship with Graham.
Harrison, a former lobbyist who became the first Black leader of the South Carolina Democratic Party, attempted to seize a moment when some voters perceived Graham as abandoning his principles as a “work together” (but also against civil rights) politician and friend for the chance to hold Trump’s golf clubs. Harrison was smart to offer himself as an alternative choice for South Carolinians who still like the idea of being home to the “voice of reason” Senator: “That’s why Jaime’s plan does what he’s always done: brings people together, Democrats and Republicans who don’t always agree, to work for all of South Carolina,” an ad for Harrison said.
But the strategy (and the millions of dollars spent in the race) didn’t seem to stick in the end. Instead, Graham’s Trumpian aggrieved tone won out. “They hate me,” Graham whined about the Democratic party in an October 3 debate against Harrison, upset at the staggering $57 million his opponent was able to raise over the course of three months to defeat him. “This is not about Mr. Harrison. This is about liberals hating my guts.”
“We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term,” Graham said of the Republican party at the 2012 national convention. But by becoming one, Graham seems to have lived to ride another man’s racism all the way to yet another victory.