Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), well positioned as one of Donald Trump's most notable cheerleaders in the Senate, was asked about the president's latest attacks against four congresswomen of color. The Republican senator, up for re-election next year in a ruby-red state, made the case that Trump is only attacking "the squad" because they criticized him and the administration's agenda.
"I don't think a Somali refugee embracing Trump, would not have been asked to go back. If you're racist, you want everybody from Somalia to go back because they are black or they're Muslim. That's not what this is about to me. What this is about to me is that these four congresswomen, in their own way, have been incredibly provocative. [...]"If you think he's as racist, that's up to you. I don't.... If you embrace his policies, it doesn't matter where you come from. He probably likes you."
By this reasoning, Graham sees Trump as a narcissist, not a racist.
This is, of course, a rather dramatic departure from the South Carolinian's 2015 assessment of the future president: Graham described Trump four years ago as "a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot" who should be told to "go to hell."
But even if we put that aside, the broader question is whether Graham's latest defense for his Oval Office ally is accurate. In a way, I wish it were. It would be preferable to believe Trump isn't a bigot and that he simply lashes out irresponsibly at anyone who dares to hurt his feelings, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. By this reasoning, recent events are largely coincidental: the president is attacking four women of color because they're liberal critics, not because they're women of color.
The problem, of course, is that Graham's defense is literally unbelievable.
Note, for example, that there are plenty of Democratic White House critics who are both immigrants and white men whom Trump hasn't told to "go back" to a foreign country.
For that matter, there's the issue of the White House's Muslim ban -- the original version of which included Somalia, the same country Graham referenced this morning.
Trump didn't make any kind of distinction between people who might "embrace" him and those who might criticize him. The president targeted a specific group of people, based on their faith and country of origin.
But I also found myself stuck on the senator saying, "I don't think a Somali refugee embracing Trump, would not have been asked to go back." The suggestion seems to be that those who want to avoid the president's wrath should either remain silent or say what Trump wants to hear. The key to avoiding the leader's ire, the argument goes, is feeding the leader with praise.
That's apparently worked out nicely for Lindsey Graham, but it's not a credible suggestion for how the political discourse is supposed to function in a free society.