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There have been few high-profile Republican politicians more publicly and slavishly devoted to President Trump over the last few years than Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Words like "toady" and "lapdog" have frequently been used to describe the senator's subservience. Apparently that near-total fealty hasn't been enough for Graham to earn a little loyalty in return.
The Trumpiest corners of the conservative ecosphere have made it plain in recent weeks that they're ready to abandon Graham — who is locked in a tight re-election race with Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison — even if it means losing his Senate seat. "I don't know why anyone in the great state of South Carolina would ever vote for Lindsey Graham. It's just outrageous," Fox Business host Lou Dobbs said last week.
"It's about time" for Graham to be defeated, added a writer at the right-wing American Greatness website.
Graham has never been particularly popular among hardcore conservatives, but it is still shocking to see them turn on a fellow Republican candidate in a close general election race. For right-wing activists, the senator's problem is that he is only about 97 percent steadfast in serving Trump's wishes, instead of a full 100 percent. Dobbs, for example, pointed out that Graham — in his role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — had failed to pursue evidence of the fake "Obamagate" scandal that Trump has tried — and failed — to get going. It's the same reason Trump has talked about getting rid of FBI Director Christopher Wray after the election.
"He's done absolutely nothing to investigate Obamagate except to tell everyone, 'Stay tuned,' time and time again. Stay tuned," Dobbs said. "Senator Graham needs to be tuned out in South Carolina."
The rhetoric could endanger Graham's campaign: If even a small portion of South Carolina conservatives decide to withhold their support, he could lose his seat. Trump could possibly discourage the attacks on Graham if he wanted to, but so far, he hasn't. One has to wonder if the president had Graham in mind last week when he told GOP donors there were some Republican senators he just couldn't support for re-election.
"There are a couple senators I can't really get involved in," Trump reportedly said. "I just can't do it. You lose your soul if you do. I can't help some of them. I don't want to help some of them."
Trump's worried about his soul? This is the same man who endorsed Roy Moore for the Senate back in 2017 while Moore was under a cloud of allegations of pursuing relationships with teen girls when he was in his 30s. More recently, Trump endorsed QAnon conspiracy devotee Marjorie Taylor Greene, calling her a "future Republican star." It's difficult to determine the boundaries of Trump's conscience.
But Trump's silence on Graham — and his willingness to savage other GOP candidates of dubious loyalty, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) — suggests the president either doesn't understand or doesn't care how important a GOP-controlled Senate might be to governing in his own possible second term in office.
Republicans in the Senate have already saved Trump from conviction on impeachment charges; the president presumably liked having that security blanket. If Trump should win re-election and Democrats take the Senate, though, he will probably face more investigations and scrutiny of both his personal affairs and his operation of government. His biggest achievement, stacking the judiciary with conservative judges, would probably come to a halt. Trump wouldn't be totally powerless in such a scenario — he could speed up the pace of deregulation and continue to misuse the Justice Department — but his life would probably be a lot more difficult.
Other presidents have recognized that their power depends on their relationships with the House and Senate, of course, which is why they usually grin and bear it when taking criticism from elected members of their party. Usually, they see the bigger picture of exercising power effectively, and they know not to take it personally if a senator or member of congress expresses a bit of independence. But Trump has shown little regard for the legislative branch of government, and there isn't evidence he cares about much beyond his own ego and well-being.
Thus, it seems Lindsey Graham is being left to twist in the wind. And Republicans are in greater danger of losing their Senate majority.
It's hard to feel sorry for Graham. Any reasonable observer has seen that for Trump, loyalty is a one-way street. Yet Graham gave it, and demanded it of others. "To every Republican, if you don't stand behind this president, we're not going to stand behind you," Graham told a South Carolina crowd last year. Which raises the question: Who is standing behind Lindsey Graham now?
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