Lindsey Graham’s moment, it seemed, came on the evening of Jan. 6. With crews still cleaning up the blood and broken glass left by the mob that just hours before had stormed the Capitol, he took the Senate floor to declare, “Count me out” and “Enough is enough.”
Half a year later, a relaxed Mr. Graham, sitting in his Senate office behind a desk strewn with balled napkins and empty Coke Zero bottles, says he did not mean what almost everybody else thought he meant.
“That was taken as, ‘I’m out, count me out,’ that somehow, you know, that I’m done with the president,” he said. “No! What I was trying to say to my colleagues and to the country was, ‘This process has come to a conclusion.’ The president had access to the courts. He was able to make his case to state legislators through hearings. He was disappointed he fell short. It didn’t work out. It was over for me.”
What was not over for the senator from South Carolina was his unlikely — to many people, confounding — relationship with that president, Donald J. Trump.
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For four years, Mr. Graham, a man who had once called Mr. Trump “a race-baiting, xenophobic bigot,” exemplified the accommodations that so many Republicans made to the precedent-breaking president, only more vividly, volubly and candidly.
But Mr. Graham’s reaffirmed devotion has come to represent something more remarkable: his party’s headlong march into the far reaches of Trumpism. That the senator is making regular Palm Beach pilgrimages as supplicant to an exiled former president who inspired the Capitol attack and continues to undermine democratic norms underscores how fully his party has departed from the traditional conservative ideologies of politicians like Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney and Mr. Graham’s close friend John McCain.
To critics of Mr. Graham, and of Mr. Trump, that enabling comes at enormous cost. It can be seen, for example, in Republicans’ efforts to torpedo the investigations of the Capitol riot and in the way the party, with much of its base in thrall to Mr. Trump’s stolen-election lie, is enacting a wave of vote-suppressing legislation in battleground states.
Mr. Graham, of course, describes his role in far less apocalyptic terms. Even as he proclaims — from under the hard gaze of a half-dozen photos of Mr. McCain — that the Republican Party is now “the Trump party,” even as he goes on Fox to declare that the party can’t “move forward” without the man who twice lost the popular vote, Mr. Graham casts himself as a singular force for moderation and sanity.