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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

I’m going to mention briefly that the never-married senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), has been dogged for years by rumors that he’s gay, but that’s not the point of this article. It’s only the lede.

I don’t know if he’s gay; he has denied repeatedly that he is; and at this moment in American history, when gay marriage has entered new levels of normalcy, breathless inquiries into a senator’s sexuality ought to exceed everyone’s threshold for boredom.

My point is that there may be something more detrimental to his presidential aspirations (to be announced formally next month): the conspiracy theory based on the rumors.

Conspiracy theories aren’t like rumors. Rumors are based on ambiguities.

Conspiracy theories are much more.

As Arthur Goldwag, an authority on the politics of conspiracy theories, explained in The Washington Spectator, they are more like a religion. He wrote last year, “a kind of theology that turns on an absolute idea about the way things are — and on the immutable nature of the supposed enemy. … Paranoid conspiracism… proposes that some among us, whether Jewish bankers or heirs to ancient astronauts, owe their ultimate allegiance to Satan.”

That’s a key point — the enemy.

And you know who that is.

If Graham were gay — and we should take him at his word that he is not — that might offend some in the GOP’s evangelical wing, but a more serious problem is the suspicion that he’s in cahoots with “the enemy.” Why has he repeatedly joined the Democrats on immigration reform? Simple — “out of fear that the Democrats might otherwise expose his homosexuality,” according to 2010 a profile in The New York Times Magazine.

The Times’ profile echoed accusations by William Gheen, the head of the nativist PAC Americans for Legal Immigration, who had urged Graham to avoid being blackmailed into supporting immigration reform by outing himself. At a rally on April 17, 2010, he asked Graham to “tell people about your alternative lifestyle and your homosexuality.”

In an April 20, 2010 press release, Gheen elaborated: “I personally do not care about Graham’s private life, but in this situation his desire to keep this a secret may explain why he is doing a lot of political dirty work for others who have the power to reveal his secrets.” The entire episode might have been ignored but for Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. He said Graham could easily prove his heterosexuality by releasing a sex tape.

Moreover, Graham is seeking his party’s nomination, as other Republican contenders are going to the wall in connecting homosexuality with unseen, dark, and malevolent forces. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) this week told the Christian Broadcasting Network: “We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech, because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are labeled a homophobe and a hater.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), meanwhile, rails against a liberal fascist plan to impose a new gay-world order. “Today’s Democratic Party has decided there is no room for Christians,” he said at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition gathering in April. “Today’s Democratic Party has become so radicalized for legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states that there is no longer any room for religious liberty.”

But conservatives need not fret.

Like John McCain, Graham might clash occasionally with Tea Party Republicans, but that’s style, not substance. Like every congressional Republican, Graham voted against the Affordable Care Act and virtually everything President Obama has asked for. Graham’s views on social issues are unfailingly partisan — he holds a hard line against abortion and opposes gay marriage and gays serving in the military. And his views on foreign affairs are uniformly doctrinaire, in keeping with the Republican Party’s orthodox view of American exceptionalism vis-à-vis military might.

Unlike Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who appear worried about being tied to the foreign policy failures of the George W. Bush administration, Graham is unrepentant about the Iraq War, telling CNN recently that the invasion was not mistake, that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, and that if there’s anyone to blame for the current mess in the Middle East, it’s Obama.

Consider also the “conservative scores” assigned by special interest groups. In 2014, Americans for Prosperity, a PAC that bankrolls the Tea Party, gave Graham a lifetime score of 84 percent. In 2013, the American Conservative Union gave him a lifetime score of 88 percent. The Faith and Freedom Coalition and the Christian Coalition, both having enormous sway over the GOP’s evangelical Christian faction, gave him a score of 91 percent in 2014 and 100 percent in 2011, respectively. On taxes, he got 97 percent in 2010 from the National Taxpayers Union. And on business matters, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave him a lifetime score of 84 percent in 2013. I could go on. And on.

I don’t think conservatives have to worry much about Graham with respect to immigration, either. True, he says he favors a pathway to citizenship, but the last major push for immigration reform in 2013 called for a pathway lasting some 10 years with numerous hurdles to overcome. Given the stringency of the provisions in that bipartisan Senate bill, I’m thinking Graham and his fellow neocons supported it because they knew few immigrants could finish the process. And if they never finish, they never vote. The result is a twofer for the GOP establishment: a decriminalized workforce that can provide cheap labor, but can’t support the Democrats.

As I said, Graham is a friend to the conservative base of the Republican Party. One need only set aside the ambiguities of gossip and paranoia to see him in his proper light. Of course, that’s not going to help. The people Graham needs are the people most hostile to evidence and fact. Indeed, given the role of gay conspiracies thus far in the 2016 cycle, the “confirmed bachelor” from South Carolina may embody the sum of all their fears.

John Stoehr (@johnastoehr) is a lecturer in political science at YaleFollow him on Twitter and Medium.

Photo: John Pemble via Flickr

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