This is a theory that makes sense only if you don’t think about it for more than a millisecond. Initially, it was just something floating around liberal Twitter, until MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle brought the conspiracy theory into a mainstream arena.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, a freshman Democrat, seemed to echo this basic theory.
Now, it does seem strange that Lindsey Graham could call Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” in 2015 and then pledge his undying loyalty to Trump in 2019. That's a very public change of heart that demands an explanation. Sadly, this is the explanation that has taken root among much of the left.
This is gross. We have absolutely no proof of any “blackmail” and there is an incredibly obvious explanation sitting in front of us: Lindsey Graham has an election to win in 2020. We have a system where a significant chunk of general election races are not competitive, and the primary is the main threat. As former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor can attest, the biggest danger that most sitting Republicans face is coming from their right flank. Not to mention, this is South Carolina that we’re talking about. Lindsey Graham replaced Strom Thurmond in the Senate—one of America’s most famed bigots.
Trump is really, really popular in Lindsey Graham’s home state—more popular than he is around the country, per WLTX19:
In the poll, Trump had an approval rating of 44 percent. But looking just at Republican voters, that number climbs all the way up to 83 percent, showing he has broad popularity among his supporters. Another six percent weren’t sure, and 1 percent refused to give a response.
“Trump’s approval in South Carolina continues to be higher than his overall national approval ratings,” said Scott Huffmon, Winthrop Poll director and political scientist. “Currently, his approval in S.C. is 4 points higher than his national approval rating of 40 percent (according to Gallup). S.C. Republicans continue to offer their full-throated support of the president.”
Congress got low marks, with just 19 percent of South Carolinians approving of the job their doing.
A senator up for reelection is about to try to persuade an electorate who loves Trump and hates Congress, and people are surprised that the senator is going against Congress to support Trump?
Part of the problem here is the media (evergreen sentence). Lindsey Graham was sold to us as one of the adults in the room at the dawn of the Trump Administration (despite never meeting a country he didn’t want to bomb and generally being a miniature tyrant), and he played into that narrative, saying things like “any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.” Lindsey Graham has always been awful—what changed was the liberal narrative around him at the dawn of the Trump Presidency.
However, something clearly altered Graham’s calculus between 2015 and 2019. The question is, what?
It’s impossible to prove a negative, so there is a non-zero chance that Lindsey Graham is being blackmailed by some Trump-adjacent entity, but the far likelier explanation of what changed is Graham’s upcoming election. Politicians like Graham will put on whatever mask they feel they need to in order to maximize their support, and at the beginning of the Trump Administration, that meant firming up his bona fides with the Very Serious Media. Now that Republican primary voters are Graham’s main concern, he’s supporting the man those voters say they love. This isn’t that complex.
Until there is an explanation for Graham’s change in behavior more persuasive than “he needs to win the votes of Republican primary voters who almost all look at Trump as a supernatural deity,” insinuating that he is being blackmailed is bad journalism and frankly, just bad logic. People like John Cooper, who is the chairman of the fraudulent Democratic Coalition, are no better than the snake oil salesmen who populate the right, and letting him set the terms of the debate is alarming. Insinuating with zero evidence that Graham has some sort of sinister sexual history that he’s trying to hide is abhorrent, and it gives support to the bankrupt notion that men with voices like Graham’s cannot be heterosexual. If this is the line of unsubstantiated attack that the left is going to run with, then it’s proof that we have learned nothing from 2016.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.