George Will: Why do people like Lindsey Graham come to Congress?
Back in the day, small rural airports had textile windsocks, simple and empty things that indicated which way the wind was blowing. The ubiquitous Sen. Lindsey Graham has become a political windsock, and as such he is emblematic of his party today.
When in 1994, Graham, a South Carolina Republican, first ran for Congress, he promised to be “one less vote for an agenda that makes you want to throw up.” A quarter of a century later, Graham himself is a gastrointestinal challenge. In the last three years he had a road-to-Damascus conversion.
In 2015, he said Donald Trump is a “jackass.” In February 2016, he said: “I’m not going to try to get into the mind of Donald Trump, because I don’t think there’s a whole lot of space there. I think he’s a kook, I think he’s crazy, I think he’s unfit for office.” And: “I’m a Republican and he’s not. He’s not a conservative Republican. He’s an opportunist.” Today, Graham says building the border wall is an existential matter for the GOP: “If we undercut the president, that’s the end of his presidency and the end of our party.” Well.
Six years after its founding, the Republican Party produced the president who saved the nation. The party abetted and channeled the animal spirits that developed the industrial sinews with which 20th-century America defeated fascism and then communism.
Now, however, Graham thinks this party’s identity and survival depend on servile obedience to this president’s myopia.
During the government shutdown, Graham’s tergiversations — sorry, this is the precise word — have amazed. On a recent day, in 90 minutes he went from “I don’t know” whether the president has the power to declare an emergency and divert into wall-building funds appropriated by Congress for other purposes, to “Time for President … to use emergency powers to build Wall.” The next day he scrambled up the escalation ladder: “Declare a national emergency NOW. Build a wall NOW.” Two days later he scampered down a few rungs, calling for his hero to accept a short-term funding measure to open the government while wall negotiations continue.
Anyone — in Graham- speak, ANYONE — who at any time favors declaring an emergency, or who does not denounce the mere suggestion thereof, thereby abandons constitutional government. Yes, such a declaration would be technically legal. However, an anti-constitutional principle would be affirmed. The principle is: Any president can declare an emergency and “repurpose” funds whenever any of his policy preferences that he deems unusually important are actively denied or just ignored by the legislative branch.
Why do they come to Congress, these people like Graham? These people who trifle with our constitutional architecture, and exhort the president to eclipse the legislative branch, to which they have no loyalty comparable to their party allegiance?
Seven times Graham has taken the oath of congressional office, “solemnly” swearing to “support and defend the Constitution” and to “bear true faith and allegiance” to it, “without any mental reservation.” When the Trump presidency is just a fragrant memory, the political landscape will still be cluttered with some of this president’s simple and empty epigones, the make- believe legislators who did not loudly recoil from the mere suggestion of using a declared emergency to set aside the separation of powers.
George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post. His email address is email@example.com.
George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and can be reached via email.