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I’ll Admit, I Kinda Love Lindsey Graham

The senator from South Carolina is a Republican with a brain … and a backbone

by DAVID AXE

I’m as liberal as they come, but I have to admit — I kinda love Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s senior U.S. senator.

Which is not say that I, a long-time South Carolina resident, didn’t vote against Graham — a former state lawmaker and U.S. Air Force lawyer — when he first ran for U.S. Senate in 2002 and sought reelection in 2008 and again in 2014.

Still, South Carolina is a conservative state and, with the exception of Rep. Jim Clyburn, it always sends conservatives to Washington, D.C. Liberals in South Carolina pretty much have to pick their poison when it comes to influencing federal legislation.

As poison goes, the 61-year-old Graham tastes … well, just fine. Except when he’s flipping out over Islamic terrorism, Graham is actually a pretty reasonable guy.

Look, it’s not like Graham is some kind of liberal-in-disguise. NARAL Pro-Choice America — the abortion-rights group — gave him a zero-percent rating for opposing women’s right to choose. The ACLU and Human Rights Campaign also awarded Graham zero ratings for, at various points in his career, opposing gay marriage and other LGBT rights.

But please note. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage in 2015, Graham — who was running for the Republican nomination for president — urged conservatives to accept the decision.

“I think it’s a transformational moment,” Graham said. “There are a lot of upset people who believe in traditional marriage. They’re disappointed. They’re down right now. But the court has ruled, so here’s where I stand.

“If I’m president of the United States, here’s what would happen. If you have a church, a mosque or a synagogue and you’re following your faith, and you refuse to perform a same-sex marriage because it’s outside the tenets of your faith, you will not lose your tax-exempt status. If you’re a gay person or a gay couple, if I’m president of the United States, you will be able to participate in commerce and be a full member of society, consistent with the religious beliefs of others who have rights also.”

Not bad, considering the positions of some of the other candidates in the Republican presidential primary. U.S. senator from Texas Ted Cruz called the gay-marriage decision “one of the darkest 24 hours in our history.” Donald Trump, who went on to win the Republican nomination and the presidency, vowed to pack the Supreme Court with anti-gay justices.

“If I’m elected, I would be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things,” Trump said. “They have ruled on it. I wish that it was done by the state. I don’t like the way they ruled. I disagree with the Supreme Court from the standpoint they should have given the state — it should be a states’ rights issue.”

In supporting the Court’s ruling, Graham revealed something important and fundamental in his character. He’s a real conservative. That is to say, he values tradition, established custom and the rule of the law.

Well, most of the time. Graham joined most Republican U.S. senators in stonewalling Merrick Garland — Pres. Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. It was a purely ideological move, totally out of step with the Senate’s traditions.

Notably, a topic raised during the meeting between Garland and Graham was the “politicization of the judiciary,” which Graham said was a concern to the veteran judge.

But Graham at least paid lip service to those traditions. Reflecting on his meeting with Garland, Graham recalled the federal judge saying that “he hopes that the politics between the parties will not do a lot of damage to the judiciary.”

“I worry about that,” Graham noted. “That’s why I think the 60-vote requirements [to confirm Supreme Court nominees] are good because it requires both parties to get a handful of votes.”

If the Republican Party sides with Graham’s and retains the 60-vote threshold for justices, the Democratic Party — which will control 48 votes in the Senate — will have the power to block Trump’s own nominee to replace Scalia. In other words, Graham has argued for Senate custom … even when it represents a risk to Republican rule.

Graham is also one of the loudest advocates in the Grand Old Party for federal action against climate change. “It is, to me … a problem that needs to be solved, not a religion,” Graham said during the Republican presidential primary. “So to my friends on the left who are making this a religion, you’re making a mistake. To my friends on the right who deny the science, tell me why.”

“I’ve been to the Antarctic,” Graham continued. “I’ve been to Greenland. I’ve been to Alaska and I’ve heard from people who live in these regions how the climate is changing. And when 90 percent of climatologists tell you that it’s real, who am I to tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about?”

Leaving aside Graham’s policies, let’s talk about the man’s personality. Lindsey Graham does not give a fuck. And that’s awesome.

When Trump publicly called Graham an “idiot” and a “stiff” and then gave out the senator’s mobile phone number, Graham reacted … well, hilariously. He produced a video depicting him chopping, blending, burning and swatting his flip-phone. It was the best comedy of the GOP primary.

Actually, second-best. Because the funniest moment of the primary was Graham’s appearance on The Daily Show in March 2016, just a few months after the senator dropped out of the primary. “I think my party’s completely screwed up right now,” Graham told host Trevor Noah.

And then Noah and Graham played pool … and ruthlessly mocked GOP darlings. Graham told Noah, who is South African, to expedite his green card process because “young, black, liberal guys from Africa” will be the first to get deported under Trump.

Graham mocked Trump’s weird orange complexion, saying the future president-elect made the famously tan former Senate majority leader John Boehner “look like an albino.”

Eight months later, Trump won the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by nearly three million votes. Many Republicans who had been critical of the Manhattan real-estate developer and his strategy of open racism, xenophobia and misogyny rescinded their earlier opposition and sided with Trump’s administration.

Graham did not. Indeed, the South Carolina senator led the resistance to some of Trump’s worst policy proposals.

In response to Trump’s pledge to kick out millions of undocumented immigrants, Graham promptly proposed legislation extending Obama’s 2012 directive shielding the children of paperless U.S. residents from deportation. “The worst outcome is to repeal the legal status that these kids have,” Graham said. “Whether you agree with them having it or not, they’ve come out of the shadows.”

And when, in early December 2016, the CIA revealed that Russian agents had hacked U.S. servers in order to spread disinformation and influence the presidential election in Trump’s favor, Graham was one of the few top Republicans to demand a full investigation.

“I do believe that the Russians hacked into the [Democratic National Committee],” Graham said. “I do believe they hacked into [Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John] Podesta’s email account. They hacked into my campaign account. I do believe that all the information released publicly hurt Clinton, didn’t hurt [Donald] Trump.”

“[Russia is] trying to destabilize democracy all over the world, not just here,” Graham added. “What we should do is not turn on each other but work as one people and push back against Russia.”

I called Graham’s office about the Russia hack. Truth be told, I call Graham’s office all the time — and almost always have a nice chat with the senator’s very competent and professional staff.

I told the staffer who answered that I support Graham’s call for a probe of Russia’s election hack. The staffer chuckled. “Oh, we’re looking forward to getting that started.”

Face it, Republicans triumphed in the 2016 election cycle, winning the presidency and holding their majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and in a majority of state legislatures.

But Republicans aren’t all created equal. We shouldn’t conflate the rise of unprincipled, anti-democratic right-wing ideologues such as Trump with the continued electoral success of true conservatives, including Graham.

Patriots must stand against Trump’s authoritarianism. Those patriots aren’t all Democrats.