Senator Lindsey Graham, the archetypal Southerner, has throughout the 21st century been regarded as a pillar of the Republican establishment in the US. His talent with the media has also made him a consistent star thanks in part to his lethargic, emotionless eyes and his honey-glazed South Carolinian drawl. The media — and not just Fox News — love him for always making himself available for interviews in which he displays serious rhetorical skills in making his opinion on major issues sound as if it represents the authoritative truth.
His Senate seat in South Carolina, which formerly belonged to Strom Thurmond, has always been deemed secure. During the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, Graham has cleverly navigated the issues to appear independent of Trump — notably in his condemnation of Saudi despot Mohammed bin Salman — and yet totally loyal to the US president as the ultimate wielder of power. He was counting on this dual image of a man who knew how to balance an image of brave individuality with the right level of obsequiousness to power to guarantee victory in this election and others to come.
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But this year’s senatorial election in South Carolina has produced what may be one of the major surprises of an exceptional moment in politics. Graham has now fallen behind in the polls to an African-American challenger, Democrat Jaime Harrison. The Democratic nominee has benefited from an exceptional war chest now evaluated at $57 million compared to the mere $28 million remaining for Graham in the final stretch of the campaign. By September, Harrison’s campaign had, since the beginning, raised $85 million compared to Graham’s $58 million. And as every American knows, money talks.
In normal times, Republican politicians like Graham celebrate the fact that money talks. But as he complains about Harrison’s war chest, Graham is at least being consistent. In late 2015, when he was campaigning in the presidential primaries against a slate of Republican hopefuls that included a political outsider named Donald Trump, Graham was the one Republican who promised “to add an amendment to the Constitution curtailing money in politics.” That was a bold idea. His plan, if successful, would have prevented the Supreme Court from defending its notorious Citizens United decision establishing the principle that “corporations are people” and that “money is speech.”
Now, Graham is worried about his own hide. The logic of fundraising has betrayed him, leading him to complain: “Where is all this money coming from? You don’t have to report it if it’s below $200. When this election is over with, I hope there will be a sitting down and finding out, ‘OK, how do we control this?’ It just seems to be an endless spiral.’”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
1) A series of causes and effects that develops a dynamic of its own to escape the control of American politicians, a group of people who feel that, as the greatest nation in the history of the world, nothing should escape their control
2) In the political system of the United States, the perennially repeated ritual of enthroning, in election after election, the same personalities, whose successful association with power derives from their skill at using the power of the media to become the name that will always prevail on a ballot
Newsweek reports that “Graham’s team has accused his rival of trying to ‘buy a Senate seat.’” That privilege was traditionally reserved for Republicans, though Democrats in recent decades have become adept at the skill of gleaning dark money from corporate donors, which helps to explain why their politics have become indistinguishable from that of the Republican.
Graham feels just as justified today in accusing Harrison of buying a Senate seat as he felt justified in pushing through the nomination and confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court weeks before a presidential election, after claiming in 2016 that no president should ever be allowed to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in the year of an election. Graham clearly understands how political opportunism works.
He also understands how, in modern times, the media works concerning the idea of outsiders meddling in elections. He has decided to mobilize the Democrats’ favorite trope concerning elections. It consists of blaming evil foreigners (mostly Russians) for interfering with the integrity of electoral processes. Because this is a state election, Graham’s outsiders needn’t be a foreign power but simply masked interlopers from other states.
Though the mysterious donors remain unidentified, their characteristics can be surmised. Just as establishment Democrats draw conclusions about foreign interference on the basis of their suspicion that certain actions bear “all the earmarks of a classic Russian information operation,” Graham sees a cabal of out-of-state Democrats undermining his hopes for reelection. Vox quotes Graham, who appears literally shocked: “He also shared a statement outlining what were described as ‘shocking numbers from Jaime Harrison’s record-setting fundraising haul,’ describing the money as coming from ‘liberal out-of-state donors angered by Sen. Graham’s support of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.’”
At least Senator Graham is comforted by the fact that he is a true conservative in a truly conservative state. “National Democrats will invest more than $100 million of out-of-state money to buy the race, but the voters of South Carolina know a liberal Democrat when they see one,” Graham’s campaign spokesman said earlier this month. Liberals have never been welcome in the Deep South.
Thanks to his skill with the media, Lindsey Graham has become a fixture of US politics. He established himself as a symbol of continuity in the culture of the formerly Confederate South. At the same time, he has successfully avoided appearing simply as a caricature of the traditional Southern politician committed to rural values, historical nostalgia and deeply ingrained racism. Throughout his career, he has understood how to appeal to his peers in both parties while maintaining his own staunchly conservative identity focused primarily on an aggressive militaristic stance.
In 2002, Graham seized the opportunity of running for the Senate seat that became available at the retirement of the iconic racist and former Dixiecrat presidential candidate, later turned Republican, Strom Thurmond. Senator Thurmond had held onto his Senate seat for 48 years. Graham knew that with the right PR and the unrelenting support of Fox News, he would most likely be poised to demonstrate a similar longevity.
His African-American opponent, Jaime Harrison, is now unexpectedly threatening Graham’s political longevity. Who could have imagined a black man occupying Thurmond’s seat in the Senate? Harrison understood that Graham’s Senate seat was very secure, if not beyond reach. Harrison has expressed his own surprise: “I got into this race because I knew I had a shot, but not in my wildest dreams did I imagine a campaign growing like this campaign has grown.”
In a statement like this, Harrison demonstrates his own mastery of the art of electoral rhetoric. It would have been more honest and accurate to say: Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine the funding of my campaign growing like this funding has grown.
It wasn’t the campaign that grew, but the amount of cash in his coffers. Although he may not want to admit it, Harrison too knows that money talks.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.