Sen. Lindsey Graham has emerged from the contentious battle over Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court with a concussive force he is now channeling straight into the midterm elections.
Grabbing the spotlight in the Sunday morning talk show circuit, Graham unveiled stage two of what has been a vigorous defensive campaign against an flurry of sexual assault allegations that threatened to derail Kavanaugh's chances of becoming the 114th Supreme Court justice.
“All I can say is this is going to the streets at the ballot box,” Graham said on "Fox News Sunday." “I've never campaigned against a colleague in my life. That's about to change. I'm going to go throughout this country and let people in these purple states, red states, where Trump won know what I thought, know what I think about this process.”
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Graham's pledge indicates a rising frustration with Democrats that has reached a tipping point; his willingness to discard civility for his Senate contemporaries on the other side of the aisle to bolster Trump shows a turn-around for the South Carolina Republican. Only a few short years ago, amid a bitter Republican presidential primary, Graham warned that a Trump administration would be "an utter, complete and total disaster."
Now Graham, though he regularly warns the president against a willingness to embrace perennial U.S. adversaries like North Korea and Russia, is one of Trump's biggest boosters on Capitol Hill. After his brash TV blitz Sunday, he hit the links with Trump, who has now fulfilled a campaign promise by molding a conservative-leaning Supreme Court with two successful nominees under his belt.
It is unclear where Graham will make appearances to bolster fellow Republicans looking to hold back the tide of a "blue wave" seemingly energized by two years of frustration with Trump and Kavanaugh's success. But he'd be taking a cue from Trump, who has announced a smattering of campaign rallies across the country, including in Texas, where Sen. Ted Cruz is facing a surprisingly strong challenge from Rep. Beto O'Rourke. During a rally Saturday evening in Kansas, Trump did a victory lap over Kavanaugh while knocking the Democrats he has regularly accused of obstructing his agenda.
Kavanaugh's path to the nation's highest court was far from a sure thing, threatened in the 11th hour by multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Even among Republicans who ultimately voted to confirm him, there was Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who admitted Sunday that the strong performance by one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month was so compelling that she thought the judge would need to withdraw.
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For his part, Kavanaugh delivered a forceful defense of his character during the second part of that hearing — earning him both praise and contempt. But his visible frustration was mirrored, and perhaps overshadowed, by Graham's own remarks that day, which were widely characterized as "angry" and, according to the left-leaning ThinkProgress, "unhinged."
"What you want to do is destroy this guy's life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020," Graham said of his Democratic colleagues. "To my Republican colleagues, if you vote 'no', you're legitimizing the most despicable thing that I have seen in my time in politics."
He also unapologetically said he is a "single white man" and declared, "I will not shut up" — a harsh rebuttal to Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, telling "the men of this country" to "shut up and step up for once" over the Kavanaugh fight.
Some pundits, including Chris Cillizza of CNN, claimed at the time that Graham may have "single-handedly" saved Kavanaugh's confirmation by appealing to a right-wing audience and Trump himself. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that Graham "has more decency and courage than every Democrat member of the committee combined. God bless him."
Keeping the momentum going, Graham made a number notable cable TV appearances to air his discontent with how Democrats treated Kavanaugh. In one such interview, he promised a "full-scale" inquiry into Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to find out whether there was any wrongdoing in how they managed the sexual misconduct allegation Ford leveled against Kavanaugh. Republicans have pointed a finger at top Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein as a top suspect for a timed leak of Ford's letter to her local congresswoman in which she detailed her allegation but also requested confidentiality. Feinstein has denied that she herself or her staff leaked the contents of the letter.
Meanwhile Graham has gained steam with moments that have gone viral online. In one instance, he snapped at a woman protesting Kavanaugh’s potential nomination to the Supreme Court amid an FBI background investigation into the sexual assault allegations. A woman shouted at Graham that Kavanaugh should submit to a polygraph test, to which Graham turned around, looked at the woman, and replied: “Why don’t we dunk him in water and see if he floats?”
Another confrontation caught on video showed him walking with a security escort when a female protester trailed behind shouting, "your own white privilege patriarchy," and threatened to vote him out of office. Graham coolly replied, "Yeah, please move to South Carolina." In what has become the subject of memes coupled with rap music, he then flashed a smile at the camera and adjusted his tie, adding, "I hope you come, you'd be welcome in South Carolina."
Perhaps no more telling a moment came when a Washington, D.C., audience booed Graham on Wednesday after he said Kavanaugh had been treated poorly by those who oppose his confirmation. “I thought Kavanaugh was treated like crap,” he said. The audience booed Graham’s comments. But Graham was unphased. “Well, boo yourself,” Graham shot back.