Initially an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seems to have struck a cozy relationship with the president, often coming to Trump’s defense and insisting that any Republican opposing him will be left behind.
The closeness of their relationship was on display during Graham’s interview with The New York Times just before the president delivered his State of the Union address, published on Monday.
Trump had reached out to Graham as he considered what kind of tone he should strike with his annual speech, asking, “Should I go conciliatory or to-hell-with-it?”
The seasoned lawmaker gushed to the Times reporter over the attention he has received from the president: “I have never been called this much by a president in my life. It’s weird, and it’s flattering, and it creates some opportunity. It also creates some pressure.”
Asked point blank what happened that he went from a bipartisan dealmaker on issues like immigration and climate change to best buddies with the president, Graham replied:
“Well, O.K., from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” explaining that “this” is “to try to be relevant.”
“I’ve got an opportunity up here working with the president to get some really good outcomes for the country,” he said.
Graham later added that unlike his “political marriage” with the late Senator John McCain, his relationship with Trump is different: “I personally like him. We play golf. He’s very nice to me.”
But their relationship is largely one of political expediency: Graham wishes to win re-election and stay relevant in Washington, and believes hitching himself to Trump will help accomplish those goals.
And so far, Graham’s strategy appears to be working. He told the Times he believes he has found his way into Trump’s inner orbit, joining the likes of Melania, Ivanka and Jared.
“At the intersection of all this theater is that he wants to be a successful president, and I want him to be successful under terms that I think are good for the country.”
And terms that are good for Lindsey Graham.