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Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Some thought Sen. Lindsey Graham was a rare point of light in the darkness of the Republican Party; a principled conservative who would stand up to Donald Trump. He embodied the waning hopes of “bipartisan” opposition to an impulsive and ill-informed president.

After all, the South Carolina Republican had denounced Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries.

On Election Day, Graham let it be known that he didn’t vote for Trump. When Trump took office, he criticized the travel ban, which several federal judges found unconstitutional.

When the White House ties to Russia came under investigation, Graham said any Trump underling working inappropriately with Russia, “needs to pay a price.”

During the confirmation for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Graham declared Trump could face impeachment if he revived the practice of waterboarding, a violation of U.S. laws against torture.

“If you start waterboarding people,” Graham said to Gorsuch, “you may get impeached. Is that a fair summary?”

When Gorsuch tried to duck the question, Graham pressed him until the nominee finally escaped by agreeing, “No man is above the law.”

For those who still yearn for bipartisanship in Washington, Graham was the GOP outlier who might become the trend, the man who might lead Republicans to stand up to a president fond of flouting democratic norms.

 

Principles are so last month. Graham now says he’s “all in on Trump.”

“I am like the happiest dude in America right now,” a beaming Graham said on “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday. “We have got a president and a national security team that I’ve been dreaming of for eight years.”

What exactly did Trump do to salve Graham’s “good conscience”?

The senator cited three actions. Trump launched a cruise missile attack on Syria for a reported chemical weapons attack. He sent Vice President Mike Pence to South Korea to warn North Korea that Trump’s patience was not unlimited and sent U.S. naval forces to the Korean peninsula to underscore his warnings. And he put Iran “on notice” because “Iran is running through the Mideast. They are toppling every government they can get their hands on,” Graham said.

Last May, Graham said Trump had not “displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as Commander in Chief.”

On Wednesday he said, “I am all in. Keep it up, Donald. I’m sure you’re watching.”

In the capacious annals of sycophancy in Washington, Graham’s reversal stands out for its abject surrender. Many psell out their stated positions for the sake of proximity to power. But few grovel with Graham’s happy face enthusiasm.

 

As for putting Iran “on notice,” that was the only significant action taken by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. It drew a shrug from Iran (which, by the way, has not overthrown any governments in Middle East), perhaps it was mere words. A spokesman said, “We have not been asked to change anything operationally in the region.”

The cruise missile attack on Syria was, depending on which Trump administration official you believe: 1) a prelude to a military solution of destroying the Assad regime; or 2) a prelude to a political solution among the warring parties.

Graham hasn’t seemed to notice that it can’t be both and it may be neither, just the rash act of an incoherent man unfit for the office he holds.

 

While Pence talked tough on North Korea, the naval carrier group Trump claimed to have sent to the Korean peninsula was actually steaming in the opposite direction. Trump’s tough talk was empty talk–and he didn’t even know it. The White House explanation? “Never mind.”

Graham is right about one thing: Trump was watching. He was watching his one-time critic slink back into his good graces after he let the bombs fly. It’s an instructive lesson—Trump’s “bipartisan” opponents are easily cowed.

 
This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.