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Trump’s favorite attack dog

Trump's favorite attack dog

by digby




My Salon column this morning:

Two new Trumpworld books were released this week, one by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the other by an unknown former staffer by the name of Cliff Simms. The only interesting parts of Christie's book concern his thirst for revenge against Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, a beef that goes back years to when Christie jailed Kushner's father for a sordid blackmail and fraud scheme. The other, however, is a bit more revealing. Sims was on the campaign and then spent 15 months in the White House as a trusted Trump confidente. He took notes.

Sims appeared on the Late Show with Steven Colbert and made a comment that struck me as particularly observant:

“One of the things I try to do in this book is help people understand what makes Donald Trump tick. And one thing that never goes out of style in the Trump White House is someone who’s willing to go on TV and just fight it out with somebody. He knows [Kellyanne Conway] will go out there on any show and defend him.”

“So private loyalty doesn’t matter, but public loyalty on television is more important?” Colbert asked.

Sims replied, “I think there’s no doubt that public loyalty to the president is of utmost importance to him.”


The comment made me think about the weird dynamic between Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee and one of Trump's fiercest defenders these days.
Everyone knows it wasn't always so. Back during the campaign when Graham was running against Trump and for some time afterwards, he was scathing in his assessment.

He called him a kook and a race-baiting bigot among other things. According to this New York magazine profile by Lisa Miller, during the transition, he and his mentor, the late Senator John McCain, plotted to lead a "brave Republican resistance." But McCain got sick and Graham opportunistically shifted his loyalty to the president. Miller writes that it all happened over lunch one day when "Graham and Trump discovered their mutual love for bro-ish trash talk and golf." She quotes a friend saying that Graham sees himself as the adult in the room and that "there’s something about, I’m not going to say innocence, but the president’s affability as well as his naïveté that Lindsey is drawn to."

In other words, Graham thinks he's able to manipulate Trump into doing his bidding. Indeed, according to a friend who knew Graham's thinking, he literally made that cynical calculation:

Graham understood that “all Trump really cares about is being celebrated,” this person said. By genuflecting to Trump, Graham could seem to be in collaboration with him — the impression probably most important to the president — and “move mountains behind closed doors.”
Whether he "moves mountains" is debatable but I think that strategy has been obvious for a while. What's interesting to me is how he's going about it. Someone who has the president's ear is in a powerful position and today he's closer to Trump than any other Senator. This scene was memorialized on twitter just this week:

He has betrayed his alleged principles and maverick reputation across the board even as he makes half-hearted efforts to present himself to the press as an independent thinker who breaks with the president when he disagrees with him. He often falls back on his traditional conservative hawk credentials on foreign policy, coming before the cameras and sighing deeply when Trump makes one of his impulsive, ill-informed, national security decisions the GOP establishment sees as a bridge too far. He'll say he thinks it's a mistake and promises to talk to the president about it. Once in a while he'll feel compelled to weakly criticize Trump's crude behavior or blatant racism.

As Cliff Sims pointed out in that interview, that's obviously not something Trump ever wants to hear. He wants people to publicly defend him no matter what. So Graham is walking a fine line and has to go beyond flattery to stay in the president's good graces. It appears he's discovered the best way to do that is to become a vicious, conspiracy mongering, attack dog. Trump will forgive almost anything if someone goes after his enemies with the same fervor he does.

We all watched Graham turn into a feral animal during the Kavanaugh hearings and he has frequently been on Trump's favorite shows, Fox and Friends and Sean Hannity, performing for the audience of one, warning the Democrats that he's coming for them:

You know, to my Democratic friends, if you want to look backwards, we are all going to look backwards. I want to know why the FBI reached to the conclusion along with the Department of Justice that Hillary Clinton didn’t commit a crime. Was it because of political bias? […] I intend to look at it. I’m going to look at it. If you are going to keep plowing everything up in 2016, count me in. If you want to look for it, I will look for it.
And from his position as the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he's going to be able to deliver some real red meat to the president and his followers. Last week Igor Derysh reported on Graham's plans to investigate Hillary Clinton, something I've been predicting for well over a year. All you have to do is watch Fox for any ten minute interval and you'll see that their Clinton obsession burns even hotter than it did in 2016. And Graham is prepared to fan the flames.

This week in the latest episode of phony handwringing from the newly anointed civil libertarians of the Republican party, they are all bellowing about the FBI treating the self-aggrandizing, dirty trickster Roger Stone the way they would treat any other accused criminal.  Fox News' Tucker Carlson said "the FBI stages what was, in effect, a military assault on Roger Stone." Judge Andrew Napolitano lamented "this is jackboots in America and there is no place for that in American life!"

Here's Sheriff Joe Arpaio, rending his garments over the inhumanity of it all, being schooled by journalist Radley Balko, an expert on militarized law enforcement excesses:

Yes, the people who gleefully shout "lock her up!" are suddenly very concerned about due process.

And Graham, the man who has previously argued that the government should be able to imprison people for life without a trial, dutifully joined the chorus, using his position as the Judiciary Committee chairman to demand that the FBI explain itself.

Donald Trump is no doubt very pleased to see Lindsey Graham sticking up for his friend and going after his enemies publicly on TV. But a word of caution: Graham's ego is getting pretty inflated and he might just slip up and forget who's the president who's the sycophant. There is a long line of discarded toadies in Trump's wake.

Of course, if that happens Graham can always write a book.