It has been said that no good deed goes unpunished. Senator Lindsey Graham would probably agree. He spent a ton of time cozying up to President Donald Trump on the golf course—in the hopes of negotiating a DREAM Act compromise. The deal fell apart—thanks in large part to Trump’s staff—and Graham was left in the middle of a nasty spat over “shitholes.”
What’s the lesson here?
A common theme of this column has been to ask whether ‘tis nobler to suck up to Trump or to wash your hands of him. My courageous answer has always been… it depends. I am simultaneously repulsed by the ritualistic kissing of Trump’s ring, yet strangely admiring of powerful figures who cast aside their pride for a good cause (as opposed to those who do it for mere personal advancement).
There’s a fine line between being a servant leader and a sycophantic enabler. Graham’s efforts to woo Trump are either a profile in courage or cowardice. But make no mistake, he has had to eat some humble pie. A quick refresher might be in order.
During the campaign, Trump publicly gave out Graham’s private phone number, adding: “He doesn’t seem like a very bright guy. He actually probably seems to me not as bright as Rick Perry. I think Rick Perry probably is smarter than Lindsey Graham.”
Trump also attacked Graham’s BFF, Senator John McCain, suggesting he wasn’t a real “war hero” because he was captured.
In fairness, this was a two-way street. "I said [Trump] was a xenophobic, race-baiting religious bigot,” Graham confessed on Face the Nation, recently. “I ran out of adjectives.”
In that same interview, however, Graham noted his relationship with Trump “evolved because he is President of the United States, he beat me like a drum and I want to help him where I can because there's a lot on this man's plate.”
“I worked with President Obama where I could, with President Bush even though I supported Senator McCain,” Graham continued. “The bottom line, he is President of the United States. I've got to know him better. He asks a lot of good questions."
In short, this is a transactional relationship. And I’m okay with that. In fact, one might even say it’s heroic to sacrifice one’s dignity in the pursuit of larger goals. In my mind, this transcends DACA (as important as that might be). Graham is more liberal than I am, but I think he is a serious person. And the more reasonable people we can surround Trump with, the better.
In the past, I have said that we should be begging men like James Mattis and John Kelly to stay put. At the same time, I suggested that normal staffers and operatives should head for the exits. But what about Republican senators? Do they not have a moral obligation to fight for what they believe to be the most virtuous public policy? And if, in pursuit of this objective, they are forced to humble themselves a bit, is this not a noble act?
Speaking of the president, Senator John Thune recently observed: “He’s a person who is susceptible to hearing different arguments and being persuaded by people who are making good arguments.”
If it is true that Trump is capricious and easily influenced by the last person who whispers in his ear, is it not prudent to make sure that last person is a decent person of character? Is it a good deed for Graham to pretend to like Donald Trump, in order to retain some influence with the President of the United States?
If you answered “yes” to any of this, then I hope you will join me in shouting this from the rooftops: We WANT him on that golf course. We NEED him on that golf course!