A good metaphor for Lindsey Graham: He’s a parasitic pilot fish

I am seeing plenty of handwringing articles by journalists wondering what happened to Lindsey Graham, a US senator from South Carolina, to make him become one of Donald Trump most obsequious and groveling supporters, willing to support any insanity that his dear leader says or does.

I have always considered Graham to be an unprincipled hack and a notorious warmonger. His only skill seemed to be his ability to find the right things to say that would get him on TV. Hence the fact that while he harshly criticized Trump before he won the presidential nomination of the Republican party, he has since become one of the toadiest of toadies to Donald Trump after he became president, did not surprise me in the least. What surprised me is why the media took him so seriously in the first place.

This article by Mark Binelli looks at Graham’s history and behavior. It is a long article whose headline asks the wrong question as to how he ‘lost his way’ when in fact he has been on that same road all his life. But the article does provide a good metaphor for him.

Steve Schmidt, who ran McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, where Graham was a constant presence on the trail, tells me, “We see more examples of this in film and literature, but there are instances of principled men and women laying down their careers in service of what is right. Clearly, that person will never be Lindsey Graham. With regard to the cruelty and abuse that was directed at John McCain by Trump, I think Lindsey’s flaccidity in defending him says a lot about his character. Nobody wants to be in a bar fight when they go out on Friday night. But when someone walks up and punches your best friend in the face, you’ve got to do something. Lindsey has demonstrated he’s the guy who runs out the door.”

When I ask Schmidt, McCain’s former senior campaign adviser, about the “moderating influence on Trump” defense of Graham’s behavior, he snorts. “It’s ludicrous,” he says, “but despite its ludicrousness, this will be one of the fundamental arguments in American politics for the next 25 years. ‘No, no, you don’t understand: I was secretly against him while he was debasing his office, dividing the American people, engaged in all manner of abuses of power. I was on the front lines of Mar-a-Lago preventing this!’ It’s an absurdity. For most Republicans, the simple fact is, what they now claim to believe is at odds with what they claimed to believe three years ago. Look at what Lindsey said in 2015 and what he says today. What intervening event occurred that would lend oneself to have such a strong turn?”

“People try to analyze Lindsey through the prism of the manifest inconsistencies that exist between things that he used to believe and what he’s doing now,” Schmidt says. “The way to understand him is to look at what’s consistent. And essentially what he is in American politics is what, in the aquatic world, would be a pilot fish: a smaller fish that hovers about a larger predator, like a shark, living off of its detritus. That’s Lindsey. And when he swam around the McCain shark, broadly viewed as a virtuous and good shark, Lindsey took on the patina of virtue. But wherever the apex shark is, you find the Lindsey fish hovering about, and Trump’s the newest shark in the sea. Lindsey has a real draw to power — but he’s found it unattainable on his own merits.”

That’s Graham all right. Always on the fringes of power, willing to do doing whatever it takes to ingratiate himself with whoever has it any given time. The description applies to a lot of politicians.


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