Oh, that Lindsey Graham, that formerly moderate, mavericky senator from South Carolina. Only a day ago he was among eight senators who seemed to be defying the Tea Party gridlock of the last four years, joining together to back a “framework” for comprehensive immigration reform. Now he’s threatening to kill any legislation that includes protections for same-sex couples, growling to reporters, "Why don't we just put legalized abortion in there and round it all out?”
An irritated Sen. John McCain, who’s now spent a full 24 hours looking like someone we haven’t seen in at least six years, shot back, "We haven't even gotten that far yet. This is thrown out by the people who think we have gotten into the details, which we haven't."
Um, “thrown out by the people who think we have gotten into the details”? One of those people is one of your seven Senate partners, Sen. McCain.
That’s not the only crackpot Tea Party talking point from Graham over the last day. He also claimed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “got away with murder” on Benghazi, and threatened to put a hold on former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary because … well, there’s no connection between Hagel and Benghazi. Graham says he’s mad that outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hasn’t yet answered his questions about the Sept. 11 attack, so he'll block Hagel, whom he's already attacked as anti-Israel, which would seem to have nothing to do with Benghazi.
It seems Graham was too cowardly to stand up to his buddy McCain and block John Kerry’s nomination to replace Clinton, so he’ll target Hagel and make neocons and right-wing Tea Party Christianists happy at the same time.
Here’s what Graham actually said to Fox’s Greta von Susteren about Clinton Monday night. “I haven’t forgotten about Benghazi. Hillary Clinton got away with murder, in my view.” Now, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s using “got away with murder” figuratively, rather than saying Clinton murdered Ambassador Chris Stevens or the three other Americans who died in Benghazi last fall.
You can never be sure, though, since wingnuts have accused Clinton and her husband of murder before, from vicious theories disputing the suicide of Vince Foster to Rev. Jerry Falwell’s “Clinton Chronicles,” which accused the president of responsibility for “countless” murders. Even if Graham is just talking overexcitedly about last week’s hearings, he can count on the lunatic fringe of his target Tea Party base hearing the charge that the outgoing secretary of state “got away with murder” any way they like. And applauding.
It would seem that Graham’s short stint as one of eight “reasonable” senators had to be immediately followed by his return to crazy, in order to keep away the potential Tea Party primary challenge he fears most next year. As recently as the summer of 2010 he cooperated with Robert Draper’s admiring New York Times magazine profile, “Lindsey Graham, This Year’s Maverick,” in which Graham boasted of his unpopularity with the rising Tea Party and promised to continue to back legislation that would attract “Democrats and Republicans alike.” But that was barely a year into a new Senate term. Now, barely a year before his next campaign, Graham has ramped up the extremism, with a nasty crusade to block Susan Rice from the secretary of state’s job as well as regular insults to President Obama on politics and policy. (He told him to “man up” during the fiscal cliff negotiations.) The former moderate who once warned about the danger of not raising the debt ceiling openly brayed that his party should take it hostage again in January, then caved.
It’s a shame Graham’s moment of sanity on immigration reform didn’t last – but it was also predictable. Even during his maverick phase in 2010 he had a hissy fit when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid briefly prioritized immigration reform before climate change legislation Graham was set to co-sponsor with John Kerry and Joe Lieberman. Even after Reid relented and put the climate change bill first, Graham refused to rejoin as co-sponsor. Look for him to play a similarly unreliable role on immigration reform, whether or not it contains protections for same-sex couples.