Lindsey Graham’s tweets show his transformation into Trump’s BFF

Lindsey Graham's Twitter history is more revealing than you might think.
Image: vicky leta / mashable

The bruising battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination may be finished, but the political scars will last a lifetime. That is true for no one more than Sen. Lindsey Graham. 

Formerly a believer that a judge must be removed if he commits perjury, the Republican from South Carolina turned a blind eye to Kavanaugh’s many demonstrable fibs. Formerly known for his bipartisanship, Graham elected to play the attack dog. (Curiously enough, this turn came after the Judiciary Committee’s counsel started asking Kavanaugh searching questions about his history of drinking and partying.)

For Graham watchers, the hearings were the latest evidence of the senator’s disturbing transformation from Never Trumper to Trump apologist. “What happened to Lindsey Graham?” is the question asked by three separate profiles in the past month. A New York Times columnist just dubbed him “the saddest story in Washington.” 

Some commentators have pointed to the death of his good friend Sen. John McCain of Arizona this summer as a turning point for Graham. In reality, he’s been sliding down this path for years. And the best place to witness his transformation — indeed, to glimpse the regression of the GOP as a whole — is via his Twitter account, @LindseyGrahamSC

First, let’s remind ourselves of what Graham used to be like in 2009. In Obama’s first term, he was to be found working with John Kerry on a bipartisan bill to put a price on carbon emissions back when Kerry was a senator: “Yes we can (pass climate change legislation),” the pair wrote in the Times. (No, they couldn’t.) 

You can see the exact moment Graham realized his fellow Republicans were not as keen on Obama as he was. In the middle of a September 2009 speech to Congress, Graham starts to applaud the president’s words on education, then suddenly thinks better of it. 

Graham didn’t join Twitter until December 2011, and didn’t start tweeting until March 2012. His first tweet thanked supporters for coming to a fish fry and vowed to make Obama a “one-term president.” 

But nearly all his tweets were innocuous back then: bland statements of support for GOP candidates; approving reports of his visits to Google and Apple; a photo of his fashion choices on the links.

Graham announced his own bid for the presidency on June 1, 2015. He touted his experience, and compared himself favorably to Hillary Clinton in that area. But he was also careful to strike a note of civility and bipartisanship — one that sounds like it’s from a lifetime ago, not a mere three years. 

Donald Trump announced his candidacy two weeks later. Graham didn’t even think it worth tweeting about. Nor did he mention Trump’s comments calling Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists.” His first ever Trump tweets came a month later, after Trump denied that McCain was a “war hero” because “I like people that don’t get captured.” 

That subtweet was immediately followed by a direct attack on Trump’s fitness for office. 

Trump punched back by giving Graham’s cellphone number out during a campaign speech. Graham’s response was to bring a droll understatement to a knife fight.

Still, Graham wasn’t cowed; his attacks on Trump ramped up over the following months.

Here’s Graham’s first actual joke at Trump’s expense:

But when Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Graham — like many of us — decided the reality TV star’s campaign was no laughing matter. 

The next day, Graham took direct aim at the MAGA slogan using his strongest swear word.  

The following week, Trump made an ominous statement of support for Russia’s president. Back then, Graham considered it an even more serious foreign policy blunder. 

Graham dropped out of the presidential race on December 21, 2015, citing poor polling numbers. But that didn’t stop him from attacking Trump in unequivocal language. 

On February 20, 2016, Trump swept the GOP primary in Graham’s home state, South Carolina. Shortly after, Graham and Trump got into the first of two Twitter spats. 

On May 3, 2016, Trump’s last opponent with a shot at defeating him, Sen. Ted Cruz, dropped out of the race. Graham was in an apocalyptic mood. He posted a dire prediction to his party — one that remains his most liked, most talked-about tweet, even now. 

Just nine days later, however, Trump won the delegates he needed. Graham posted this, and you can almost hear the gnashing of teeth. 

If anyone on Trump’s campaign expected Graham to fall into line, however, they were disappointed.

A day after the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released, Graham again made his anti-Trump feelings clear. 

In the wake of three disastrous debate performances by Trump, Hillary Clinton was riding high in the polls. Graham’s tweets indicated he considered Trump’s campaign to be a lost cause. 

Not even the last-minute bombshell of then FBI director James Comey reopening an investigation into Clinton’s emails deterred Graham from making it clear on election day that he did not vote for Trump. 

Instead the senator punched his ballot for a Republican running as an independent, Evan McMullin. 

Even after a perfunctory statement congratulating Trump on his surprise victory, Graham remained cautious — particularly about Trump’s relationship with Russia. 

In the month after Trump’s inauguration, Graham’s tweets continued to be ambivalent. Reacting to a Trump proposal for a “border tax” on Mexico to build the wall, Graham tried to bring the funny by tweeting that it was “mucho sad.” 

Graham tweeted support for all Trump’s cabinet picks, but also pushed for investigations into Russia’s impact on the 2016 election — and cautioned against the first Muslim travel ban.

But if there is a pivot point in Graham’s relationship with Trump, it arrived in March 2017. He issued a statement in support of the second travel ban, and had a White House meeting that seemed to thaw relations — to the point where he and Trump became phone buddies again. 

Still, Graham was prepared to defend Jeff Sessions against Trump’s insistence that the Attorney General prosecute Hillary Clinton — even if the strongest word he could muster to describe this norm-breaking outrage was “inappropriate.” 

When literal Nazis and Klansmen rallied in Charlottesville, Graham was prepared to attack Trump over his “many sides” statement. But he didn’t dare tweet his complaints directly, preferring to link to a newspaper interview. 

Two days later Trump struck back at Graham directly, calling him “publicity seeking” and a “disgusting” liar. Graham then got into his second ever quote-tweet spat. In a non-threaded thread, he warned Trump that he was now being quoted approvingly by racist hate groups, implored him to “fix this” and said that “history is watching us all.” 

But by this point, Graham could not attack Trump without sending an approving tweet literally one minute later.

Trump’s announcement calling for a troop surge in Afghanistan the following week seemed to patch things up as far as the hawkish Graham was concerned. 

And then, a couple months later, the golfing began.

Later that month, the supposed fiscal conservative Graham voted for Trump’s deficit-ballooning trillion-dollar tax cut. By Trump’s first State of the Union in January 2018, the senator was tweeting full-throated support for the “law and order president.” 

In April, two years after predicting the GOP would be “destroyed” by Trump, Graham announced he was all in for Trump 2020. 

The preemptive endorsement also marked a distinctive trend in Graham’s tweets: Since March 2018, he has started using Trump’s twitter handle. A lot. 

In July, Trump’s craven display of obsequiousness towards Vladimir Putin in Helsinki shocked the world. Graham had once considered Trump’s support for Putin worse than his proposal for a Muslim travel ban. Now he merely described it as a “missed opportunity.” 

Even that mild display of dissent was erased a couple days later, when Graham credulously insisted Trump was not denying the conclusions of his own intelligence services. 

Soon enough, Graham was couching his Russia criticism within a statement that he was “totally” agreeing with Trump. 

In April 2018, Graham had signed on to a bipartisan Senate bill that would have specifically protected Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

But in August 2018, the bill having gone nowhere, Graham tweeted that he hoped Mueller would “wrap up his investigation sooner rather than later.” 

He also gave an interview in which he appeared to back away from supporting Jeff Sessions. For the first time, Trump quoted Graham approvingly. 

There was little time for Graham to respond to that tweet. John McCain, who had not wavered in his opposition to Trump, passed away later the same day. 

McCain had specifically disinvited Trump from the funeral, but Graham was able to wangle an invite for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Around the same time, he tweeted a photo of his meeting with Ivanka. 

After the McCain funeral, Graham’s long transformation into a Trump surrogate seemed complete. Here he is a week later, tweeting his support in the wake of early revelations from Bob Woodward’s book Fear.    

Meanwhile, Republican representatives in the House were in the throes of discrediting Mueller’s  investigation by attacking the investigators. This presented no problem for Graham. 

What is interesting to follow through all this is how much more frequently Graham tells us to tune in to  appearances on Fox News, Fox Business News, and CNN. The more controversial he gets, naturally, the more he does on-air “hits.” 

And then we come to the Kavanaugh nomination, and the revelation of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation. In a startling display of hypocrisy, the senator who had gone all-in for a man he once despised now accused Democrats of acting in a Machiavellian manner. 

By the end of the nomination process, Graham wasn’t just supporting Trump in his tweets — he was starting to sound like him. Note the use of ellipses instead of numbering his tweets, the one-word descriptions, and the very Trumpian touch of capitalizing the word “victory.”     

Perhaps there is more of Graham’s Twitter story to be told; maybe he will disentangle himself from Trump after the midterms. But at the moment, his trail of shifting positions looks like a cautionary tale for future generations. 

Here, kids, is what happens when you gain a tax cut, and a Supreme Court seat, and a whole lot of airtime, but lose your political soul. 

Read more: https://mashable.com/article/lindsey-graham-tweets/

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