With each burst of new information regarding the president’s decision to block aid to Ukraine in exchange for a political favor, Republican allies have had to walk back, dance around, or wholly make up new defenses for Trump’s potentially impeachable behavior. This week, Lindsey Graham, the proud critic turned staunch Trump ally, proved his status as the most creative of the president’s surrogates on his toes during this crisis.
On Tuesday — the day that E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland reversed his position, saying Trump did engage in a quid pro quo — Graham went dark, saying that he wouldn’t listen to the testimony because he didn’t want to hear it: “I’ve written the whole process off … I think this is a bunch of B.S.” Though it appears Graham is no longer accepting new information as it comes in, he elaborated on Wednesday with an argument as insulting as it is effective. Describing the likelihood that the Trump administration could pull off something as complicated as leaning on a foreign government to investigate a political rival, the South Carolina senator said: “What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward the Ukraine, it was incoherent … They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo.”
The defense of the son has become the defense of the father. During the Mueller investigation, arguments excusing and/or condemning Donald Trump Jr. for his June 2016 meeting with sources connected to the Russian government cited the likelihood that the president’s son was “too incompetent to collude.” According to Graham, the logic applies to the whole family: Trump isn’t with it enough to pursue a quid pro quo in Ukraine, despite past behavior showing that he is. For years, Trump has understood how to get what he wants without quite asking for it, a move he has adapted from the world of New York real estate to the stage of geopolitics.
Later on Wednesday — perhaps to assuage the president after belittling his administration — Graham praised Trump, telling him that “the finest moment of your presidency was the Kavanaugh hearing,” and thanking him “for not pulling the plug” following multiple credible allegations of sexual misconduct. This, too, could be viewed in an accidentally unflattering light: After suggesting his administration is too dumb to follow through on a potentially impeachable act, Graham told Trump that the shining moment of his presidency was when he stood by and let the mechanisms of the judicial nomination process crank away, as Kavanaugh’s record was ignored on party lines.