How Lindsey Graham Turned Into Trump’s Snarling Poodle

Lindsey Graham

Sen. Lindsey Graham

Photo by Gage Skidmore/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been under fire this week for a major flip-flop after he reneged on a 2016 pledge to oppose any Supreme Court nomination in an election year, backing Donald Trump's push to rush through a replacement for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But this is hardly the first time he has abandoned his stated principles to appease Trump.

"I want you to use my words against me," Graham said during a Senate hearing in March 2016. "If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination." He reiterated that view in 2018.

Now that he is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vacancy has opened up on the court, Graham has completely reversed his position. He tweeted Saturday — less than a day after Ginsburg's death — that because Democrats were mean to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during hearings, he would now "support President @realDonaldTrump in any effort to move forward regarding the recent vacancy created by the passing of Justice Ginsburg."

During the 2016 campaign, Graham ran against Trump for the GOP nomination and attacked him as a "kook" who was "unfit for office" and a "complete idiot." But since Trump's inauguration, he and Trump have become golfing buddies, and he has become one of Trump's most loyal supporters, voting with him more than 87 percent of the time.

Here are six other times Graham has put Trump over his stated principles:

Impeachment trial witnesses

In the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, then-Rep. Graham served as a House impeachment manager, prosecuting the case before the Senate.

"What I'm saying about witnesses is that if you take them off the table in the Senate, the next Judiciary Committee, the next independent counsel ought to do everything, because they may lose the chance to present their case," Graham said at the time. "That would be bad for impeachment law. That would be against precedent, and I hope that doesn't happen here."

Last December, after Trump was impeached, Graham took the exact opposite view, opposing even hearing from Trump's own witnesses.

"I'm going to tell the president, 'no,' to his witnesses request because I think what is best for the country is to get this behind us as soon as possible," he told reporters.

Though he took an oath to hear the impeachment case against Trump as an impartial juror, he refused even to read transcripts of witness testimony from the House of Representatives based on his view that it was all "a bunch of B.S."

Obstruction of justice

In December 1998, Graham argued that obstruction of a congressional investigation was an impeachable offense. "The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day he was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress, and he became the judge and jury," he said, as part of his argument for impeaching Clinton. He repeatedly argued that Clinton's attempts to obstruct justice merited removal from office.

After Trump was impeached for obstruction, Graham argued that this made Trump the victim. "They impeached him for obstructing Congress. They tried to put Trump below the law. Abuse of power is so poorly defined here, I don't know how presidents in the future can conform their conduct," he told Fox News. "It's the first impeachment in history where there's no allegation of a crime by the president."

Sexual predation

Graham suggested during the Clinton impeachment that sexual harassment too might be impeachable. "Sexual harassment cases are uncomfortable," he told reporters in January 1999. "That's why the behavior is illegal. What went on in the Oval Office is uncomfortable, but it's important to know if it occurred in a way that makes the President a liar."

But though Trump — who admitted to "Access Hollywood" in 2005 that he likes to sexually assault women — has been accused by more than 40 different women who say he sexually assaulted them, Graham has dismissed their claims. "The president has denied it," he told reporters after one claim surfaced in June 2019. "He's denied it and that's all I needed to hear."

Trump's racism

In December 2015, Graham called Trump "a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot."

"You know how to make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell," Graham told CNN.

Although since Graham said that, Trump has pushed for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, told Democratic congresswomen of color to leave the country, mocked developing nations as "shithole countries," and defended white nationalists as "very fine people," Graham now claims that Trump is "absolutely not" racist, but just very sensitive to people who don't like him.

"He's a street fighter. It's not the color of your skin that matters. It's not the content of your character," Graham told CNN in January 2018. "It's whether or not you show him respect and like him. And if he feels you're off script and don't like him, he punches back."

Joe Biden

Graham said in 2015 that his former Senate colleague Joe Biden was "as good a man as God ever created." The following year, he told HuffPo, "If you can't admire Joe Biden as a person, there's probably, you got a problem. You need to do some self-evaluation, because what's not to like?'"

This did not stop Graham from acceding to Trump's desire for an investigation into the Bidens last November. And it did not stop him from warning in February on Fox News, "The day of reckoning is coming for congressional and Senate oversight of Joe Biden."


For years, Graham demanded America use its military to protect Kurds in Syria from genocide. When Trump initially decided to pull U.S. troops out of Syria last October, leaving the Kurds vulnerable to attack by invading Turkish military, Graham denounced the move as "a stain on America's honor." He told Fox News that it was an "impulsive decision by the president" and "short-sighted and irresponsible."

Weeks later, he changed his mind. After meeting with Trump, Graham said he was "increasingly optimistic that we can have some historic solutions in Syria that have eluded us for years, if we play our cards right."

"President Trump is thinking outside the box," he told Fox News. "I was so impressed with his thinking about the oil."

Graham is facing a tough reelection race against Democratic nominee Jaime Harrison. A Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters released last week found the two tied at 48% each, while a Morning Consult poll released Tuesday put Graham ahead by just a single point.

Graham's campaign did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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