Commentary: Meet Lindsey Graham 2.0

Graham: "This is the most unethical sham"

Meet "Lindsey Graham 2.0."

That's the label conservatives have slapped on the new, updated—they would argue "upgraded"—South Carolina senator who emerged during the fight over Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation. The Senator Formerly Known As "Lindsey Grahamnesty" is gone, they hope, replaced by the combative new conservative who exchanged an "exploding fist bump" with a fellow senator after the successful Kavanaugh vote.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro even posted "Lindsey Graham 2.0" highlights video.

Back in Graham's home state of South Carolina, Republicans are noticing.

"The Lindsey Graham we always hoped was there came out fighting against the smear campaign by Democrats," said Bruce Carroll, a South Carolina conservative activist. In 2013, Carroll was so anti-Graham that he started a PAC, Carolina Conservatives United, to raise money for a 2014 primary challenge. Today he's praising Graham as a conservative hero.

It's hard to overstate the magnitude of the Lindsey Graham turnaround among what might be called the "Talk-Radio Right"— the outspoken activists and conservative-media consumers who were part of both the Tea Party movement and the Trump wave. 

Graham's outspoken efforts alongside Sen. John McCain for the "Gang of Eight" deal on illegal immigration inspired hair-pulling hatred from the anti-amnesty Right.  He gave a speech on the floor of the Senate attacking libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul over the Obama administration's collection of citizen data.  And while Graham wasn't the only Republican to vote for President Obama's Supreme Court nominees, his public arguments on behalf of deferring to presidents when it comes to qualified judicial nominees, regardless of ideology, was not what many conservatives wanted to hear. (And would certainly sound different today in the post-Kavanaugh moment.). The conservative group FreedomWorks labelled Graham an "Obama Republican."

Graham did more than "vote wrong." This Republican from red-state South Carolina vocally defended his Establishment views, which gave cover (conservatives argue) to squishy Republicans and activist liberals.

And they hated him for it.

"I think I can safely speak for just about everyone in the tea party that we don't like Lindsey Graham," said Keith Tripp, a South Carolina tea party activist in 2013.

And today?

"Lindsey was the hero of the Republican Party yesterday and of conservatives everywhere," according to Pickens County GOP chairman Rick Tate, in the wake of  Sen. Graham's angry tirade on behalf of Judge Kavanaugh in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Republicans love Lindsey Graham 2.0" says Seth Weathers, a pro-Trump political strategist in neighboring Georgia. "He's seen the nastiness the Left is capable of and was sickened by it. Welcome aboard, Lindsey."

For his part, Sen. Graham is taking the new-found popularity from the once-grumpy GOP base in stride. "I've been applauded, and I've been a-booed," Graham said the day after his now infamous Judiciary Committee performance "I know my day will come. I'll talk about climate change and overturning Citizens United. These things come and go."

On Fox News Sunday, less than 24 hours after Kavanaugh's confirmation, he was content to celebrate the results. "I'm happy because the effort to humiliate and railroad a man I've known for 20 years … failed," Graham said on Fox News yesterday.  I'm happy that those who destroyed his life fell short."

Fell short in large part to the efforts of Sen. Graham and two of his fellow Senate Republicans, Jeff Flake and Susan Collins. That's right: A conservative jurist whose case became a cause celebre of the far-Right….saved by three of the most Establishment Republicans in Congress.

 Jeff Flake wrote an entire book criticizing the Republican Right's embrace of President Trump.  And yet it was his call for another FBI investigation—and willingness to cast a "yes" vote as promised when no corroborating evidence was found— that made it possible for Sen. Collins and Sen. Manchin to stay on board.

Susan Collins is never going to be mistaken for a Tea Party Republican. But her powerful speech laying out her reasons for supporting Kavanaugh's confirmation was both a blistering indictment of the Democrats' treatment of the judge and a compassionate statement of the need to support women when they come forward to tell their stories of sexual assault. Collin's speech was pitch-perfect and made a case that (to be blunt) old, white guys would have a tough time making themselves.

And Lindsey "Grahamnesty" was the MVP of the Kavanaugh case. Who could have seen that coming?

It's been noted by several Republican commentators that if Trump-supporting primary voters in Alabama hadn't backed un-electable Republican Judge Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate race, the Kavanaugh outcome wouldn't have been at the same level of risk. It was the moderates who had to ride to Kavanaugh's rescue.

Sen. Graham's performance was so "heroic" that even Superman praised him. Dean Cain, star of the 1990s TV series "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" and a frequent Fox News guest, tweeted: 

"I have to say it.  I love Lindsey Graham 2.0."

That's fitting, since at this moment, the average conservative might even be led to believe that Lindsey Graham can leap tall buildings in a single bound.