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Donald Trump and the detritus of formerly ordinary politicians

Because Lindsay Graham was the friend and sidekick of the late Sen. John McCain, Graham was, long ago, considered a relatively candid pol. That’s over. Waaay over. 

Sen. Lindsay Graham
Sen. Lindsay Graham
REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

A cynical old joke goes: How can you tell when politicians are lying?

The punch line: Their lips move.

Cynical, yes, but funny before the age of Trump, which made it too real to be funny.

Now, with Trump gone, at least gone from office, we are left with the detritus of formerly ordinary Republican politicians, with formerly ordinary reputations as prevaricators, trying to find their way back to that former ordinary status after having sold or rented their former reputations as merely ordinary lip movers who might or might not be lying.

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My case study for today is Sen. Lindsay Graham. 

Because Graham was the friend and sidekick of the late Sen. John McCain, and because McCain was famous for being a straight talker (perhaps in general, but at least if we grade McCain on the deplorably low level of expectations we’ve come to accept of politicians) Graham was, long ago, considered a relatively candid pol.

That’s over. Waaay over. 

What happened? Trump happened. In fact, because Graham ran against Trump for the 2016 Republican nomination, Graham had a last chance to do his Straight Talk McCain impression while briefly running against Trump. While still running against Trump  for the 2016 nomination, for example, he said: “35 percent [of the Republican primary electorate] believe that Obama is a Muslim who was born in Kenya. [Trump] has locked that crowd down. But 65 percent of us think [Obama] is just a bad president.”

He also said: “If Donald Trump carries the banner of my party, I think it taints conservatism for generations to come. I think his campaign is opportunistic, race-baiting, xenophobia. Other than that, he’d be a good nominee.” 

When Graham dropped out of contention for the presidential nomination, he endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz, who was still in the race. Soon after that endorsement, he appeared on an episode of “The Daily Show,” where host Trevor Noah asked him how he could support Cruz, considering that Graham had once said of Cruz: “If you killed Ted Cruz, and the trial was on the floor of the Senate, no one could convict you.”

Graham had also been asked, while he was still in the presidential field, who he preferred, Trump or Cruz, to which Graham replied: “That tells you everything you need to know about Donald Trump. It’s like asking me whether I’d rather be shot or poisoned. Does it really matter?”

When Noah pressed him to say something favorable about Cruz, whom Graham had just endorsed, Graham replied: “That he’s not Trump.”

At the end of the interview, Noah coaxed Graham to explain how he had lost a race to both Trump and Cruz. He replied (in a moment that actually made me feel pretty sorry for him): “I’m gonna change my name to Vote-y McVote-face Graham. Maybe that would help.”

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Of course, once Trump became the nominee, and then president, Graham changed his routine to be an unswerving supporter of Trumpism and admirer of Trump.

But, to his credit, Graham has enough integrity to have avoided, so far, changing his name to “Vote-y McVoteface Graham.”