Voices: The spectacular destruction of Joe Biden and Lindsey Graham’s friendship

Biden (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Biden (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

President Joe Biden was fired up during a speech in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on Tuesday. After outlining his plan for gun reform and broadly condemning Republicans who defend the January 6 insurrection, the president aimed more directly at a certain person: “The idea you turn on a television and see senior senators and congressmen saying if such-and-such happens, there’ll be blood in the street. Where the hell are we?”

Joe Biden was talking about his former friend and Senate colleague Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who appeared on Fox News this past Sunday issuing what many saw as a thinly veiled threat. Graham declared: “I’ll say this: if there’s a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information, after the Clinton debacle… there’ll be riots in the streets.” When Graham was later shown a video of Biden’s implied condemnation of his “riots” quote, he claimed that he actually said he rejects violence.

It’s important to note that Graham is currently fighting a grand jury subpoena in Georgia seeking testimony on his role in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. He’s not exactly a neutral arbiter here.

Trump posted the video of Graham’s riot remarks on his social media platform Truth Social after he himself made implicit threats to the Justice Department (DOJ). The former president has repeatedly and publicly said that the DOJ should know how “angry” his supporters are, in an apparent effort to dissuade them from prosecuting him over his theft of classified documents. The broader right-wing ecosystem has echoed this violent rhetoric toward government agencies ever since the raid — and an armed Trump supporter was killed recently as he sought to break into an FBI office in Ohio.

So, as Biden asked, where the hell are we? We’re in an unsustainably violent political reality of Trump and the GOP’s own making. Interestingly enough, you can actually track the Republican party’s descent into Trumpism by analyzing Joe Biden and Lindsey Graham’s deteriorating friendship.

In 2015, Graham and Biden were close. Documentary footage from that year shows Graham tearfully describing their friendship and praising Biden. “The bottom line is, if you can’t admire Joe Biden as a person, you got a problem. You need to do some self-evaluation, cause what’s not to like... He’s the nicest person I think I’ve ever met in politics,” Graham said. His voice choking up, he continued, “He’s as good a man as God ever created.”

This was the same version of Lindsey Graham that would absolutely eviscerate Trump without hesitation. While Trump was running for president in 2015 and 2016, Graham called him a “jackass”, a “kook”, and a “bigot” who “doesn’t represent” the Republican party. Everything changed when Trump won.

Graham began to defend Trump’s most depraved acts as president and play golf with him frequently. Even as Trump launched attacks on a dying John McCain, Graham continued to cozy up to the former president. It sure looked like Graham quickly traded his friendships with Joe Biden and John McCain for an opportunistic alliance with Donald Trump.

By the time Biden ran for president, what was left of his former friendship with Graham appeared to be minimal. After Biden won the election — and while Trump and his allies were seeking to overturn the results — he referred to his friendship with Graham in the past tense, telling Stephen Colbert in December 2020: “Lindsey’s been a personal disappointment because I was a personal friend of his.” After January 6, Graham had an apparent moment of clarity where he was heard on tape saying Biden was “the best person to lead” the US after the Capitol attack. That didn’t last long. Graham reverted, and would quickly become one of Biden’s biggest critics and one of Trump’s biggest defenders.

Lindsey Graham is the personification of the GOP’s devolution into Trump sycophancy. (In fact, I wrote about this in one of my first pieces for The Independent in 2019.) When asked about his transformation in loyalties, Graham gave a shockingly clear explanation of both his friendship with John McCain and his allyship with Donald Trump. He said, ”If you know anything about me, it’d be odd for me not to do this... This is to try and be relevant.”

Like Graham, the Republican party’s amoral pursuit of power and relevance has morphed them into authoritarians. The consequences of this have been grave both for the GOP and for the country.

The clearest example of this was the violent January 6 attack on the Capitol. We now know for sure, thanks to the incredible work of the January 6 Committee, that the violence wasn’t an accidental byproduct of Trump’s rally or his overall attempt to overturn the election. It was the point. It was a key strategic component of Trump’s scheme. NBC’s Ben Collins’ expertly outlined this, stating: “I think it’s time we start covering Trumpism for what it is now. It’s no longer a political movement. It’s a violent fairytale of revenge on political enemies.”

The damage to the country is evident, but those allied with Trump have also been hit with the shrapnel from their own actions. Graham is staring down the barrel of a grand jury subpoena, Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) is also facing legal scrutiny, and Trump’s lawyers — from Rudy Giuliani to John Eastman — are also facing probes for their roles in the attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Meanwhile, the broader Republican party is fearful that Trump’s legal troubles will harm their midterm performance.

In 2016, Lindsey Graham famously tweeted: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed.......and we will deserve it.” In 2022, he is playing a key role in turning that prophecy into reality.