The number of prominent, die-hard, “Never Trump” voices in Republican politics is pretty small, but one of those voices had been quite loud. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), arguably more than anyone else in his party, had spent the better part of a year telling anyone who’ll listen that Donald Trump must never be the president of the United States.
Which is probably why this CNN report, published on Sunday, came as something of a shock.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Donald Trump’s fiercest critics, is now calling on Republicans to support their presumptive nominee.Graham urged GOP donors at a private fundraiser Saturday in Florida to unite behind Trump’s campaign and stressed the importance of keeping likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from the White House…. “He did say that we need to get behind him,” Teresa Dailey, a prominent Florida Republican fundraiser who attended the private event, told CNN on Sunday.
[Update: CNN has since amended its original reporting. See the note below.]
I held off on writing about this yesterday largely because I wanted to give Graham a day to forcefully deny the accuracy of the report. There doesn’t appear to be a recording of the senator’s remarks at the event, and the CNN coverage was based on second-hand accounts, so there was at least some grounds for skepticism. If Graham and his aides insisted that the senator never said what his audience claimed he said, maybe Graham should get the benefit of the doubt.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, Graham’s spokesperson confirmed that he attended the fundraiser, and remained coy about what, exactly, the senator said about supporting the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Pressed for an explanation yesterday, Graham had an opportunity to deny the accuracy of the CNN report, but he didn’t. “You vote the way you want to vote for president,” the senator told reporters. “I’ve decided to take a pass on that race.”
Except, that’s not entirely true. Graham has had plenty to say about the presidential race.
Consider this report from Salon’s Simon Maloy:
This is the Lindsey Graham who, when he was still a presidential candidate, called Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic bigot,” a “complete idiot,” a “jackass,” and a “wrecking ball.” He urged GOP voters to tell Trump to “go to hell” and warned that if Trump did win the nomination, “that’s the end of the Republican Party.” After Graham dropped out, he described the two-man race between Trump and Ted Cruz as a choice between “being shot or poisoned.” Graham eventually did endorse Cruz, who, you may have already guessed, Graham dislikes intensely, because he hated Trump that much more.
My personal favorite came just three weeks ago, when Graham told CBS that Trump’s approach to foreign policy “will lead to another 9/11.”
If Lindsey Graham, of all people, is telling GOP donors they’re going to have to rally behind the party’s presumptive nominee, then #NeverTrump is not only dead, it’s become something of a joke – sort of like Graham’s purported principles.
As for why in the world the South Carolina senator would do this to his reputation, I think Slate’s Josh Voorhees gets this right: “Graham’s long-held position, then, seems to be that Trump is a dangerous bigot who is unfit for office, but also a dangerous bigot who is worth supporting if it will help his Republican colleagues keep their jobs.”
Update: * Responding to the simmering controversy, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has now told reporters, “All I can say is, I never told anybody to give money to Donald J. Trump. I’ve told people if I had money to give, I’d give it to the House and Senate candidates. It is important to unite our party, our House and our Senate candidates. If you want to help Mr. Trump, God bless you.”
Second Update: CNN has now updated its report with an extensive editor’s note, walking back much of its original reporting. Take a look.