Lindsey Graham knifes #NeverTrump: One of Donald Trump's loudest detractors quietly gives up

A Trump opponent who called him an "idiot" and a "jackass" is now urging unity because at least Trump isn't Hillary

Published May 23, 2016 4:58PM (EDT)

 (Reuters/Brian C. Frank)
(Reuters/Brian C. Frank)

Just about everywhere you look, there are signs that the Republican Party has surrendered to Donald Trump. Sure, there are still a few perfunctory hold-outs, but they represent the minority within the party. Establishment bigwigs are giving in, and the presumptive GOP nominee is enjoying a surge in the polls because Republican voters – many of whom told exit pollsters during the primary that they would never rally behind Donald Trump – are rallying behind Donald Trump.

This is obviously bad news for the conservative #NeverTrump cause, which ostensibly strives to prevent Donald Trump from ever capturing the presidency or gaining acceptance within the Republican Party. Already you’re seeing prominent #NeverTrump people driven to madness and despair – right-wing ideologue Erick Erickson is openly pleading for RINO squish Mitt Romney to get into the race because he’s desperate for options and can’t think of anyone else. But Trump’s takeover continues apace, and if you’re in need of still more proof that the resistance within the GOP establishment is doomed to fail, look no further than Sen. Lindsey Graham.

According to CNN, Graham (a former 2016 candidate who earned my early and enthusiastic endorsement) told Republican donors at a fundraiser over the weekend that it was time to swallow hard and get behind their party’s nominee. 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. If any senior elected Republican official could be thought of as a #NeverTrump die hard, it was Graham, but he’s apparently given up.

Graham conversion was motivated by the same curdled reasoning that has always been the #NeverTrump movement’s chief vulnerability: he just can’t countenance the thought of President Hillary Clinton. “Graham urged GOP donors at a private fundraiser Saturday in Florida to unite behind Trump's campaign,” CNN’s report notes, “and stressed the importance of keeping likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from the White House.”

There is absolutely no consistency in Graham’s maneuvering here. If you were to ask him if he thought Clinton was a xenophobic bigot, or a jackass, or an idiot, he’d very likely tell you “no.” But at the same time, Republican political tradition demands that anyone bearing the surname Clinton be treated as a devil-made-flesh, and the prospect of a Hillary presidency has loomed threateningly in the Republican psyche for the better part of two decades. The anti-Clinton reflex is so strong that, even when confronted with a Republican alternative whom Graham considers a dangerous threat to his own party and the world, he reluctantly falls in line behind him because, at the very least, he is not Hillary Clinton.

As Brian Beutler writes, the #NeverTrump movement has embraced a rationale that brings with it a “moral obligation” to do absolutely everything it can to defeat Donald Trump. There is, after all, only one definition of “never.” But as the Lindsey Graham evolution makes clear, the lethal problem they face is that no matter how dangerous and unacceptable they make Trump out to be, there are too many Republicans and conservatives who just can’t bring themselves to believe there’s anyone worse than Hillary Clinton.

By Simon Maloy

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