A story broke yesterday in The Hill with the headline “Senate GOP warns Biden against picking Sally Yates as attorney general”.
A key detail within the story: none other than Lindsey Graham suggested that Biden should go with a moderate consensus pick such as Merrick Garland, whom the Republicans would be more amenable to.
My immediate response to this was that at this point he’s just trolling. That was the same compromise his predecessor Orrin Hatch offered to President Obama on filling a Supreme Court vacancy that occurred during his term: nominate someone we can all agree on such as Merrick Garland and we’ll approve him.
As a matter of strategy, I think the Senate Republicans saying “absolutely not” to a potential pick is about as strong a recommendation as we could hope for, and if the Republicans want to stonewall it, then there’s plenty of recent precedent for working around them, assuming for the moment that they can even hold onto the majority. Nothing would make me happier than for Joe Biden to quote Mitch McConnell’s own words back to his caucus: “You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I care.”
Beyond that, though, there’s something more important to the present in the glaringly obnoxious puffery of the Grand Old Party: they are negotiating with Biden on cabinet picks because they know he will be forming a cabinet.
Never mind what any of them are willing to say on the record about Joe Biden’s position or who they think will be president come noon on January 20th. They are negotiating with the man they know will be taking the oath of office and sitting in the oval office from that day forward, because they know that will be happening.
They know that Biden won.
They don’t see a path for Trump to overturn the will of the people and steal his victory away.
This might seem like cold insight to offer on the day after the Electoral College vote, when Vladimir Putin and Mitch McConnell have (in that order) both hailed Biden as the President-Elect, but I think it’s significant that Graham of all people is staking out this territory.
Graham has been for a number of years now one of Donald Trump’s closest allies. I almost described him as “staunch” but there’s nothing staunch about Graham’s character. He’s a small fish who teams up with a bigger fish in order to gain protection and power, in the manner of the pilot fish that swims alongside a shark, or the remora that sucks on, feeding on parasites and waste matter.
A popular take on Lindsey Graham’s transformation from John McCain’s sidekick to Donald Trump’s is that he’s acting under duress, under the sway of compromising material. I have a contrarian take on that; far from seeing a principled politician losing his spine, I see a windsock that flipped around as the wind changed direction. When the wind was blowing due maverick, he did his best imitation of the principles of John McCain. When the wind changed, Trump became his model.
In this deep dive into his political rebirth, Graham is noted as saying that he wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t do whatever it takes to stay relevant. Once you understand that is his actual guiding principle, there is no inconsistency between how he acted when he was attached to McCain and how he has acted attached to Trump.
He hasn’t, to my knowledge, gone so far as to burn his bridges with Trump yet, but his posturing on the Attorney General post demonstrates that the winds in his world are shifting once again, and he knows he must shift with them.
I would hesitate to describe any politician as trustworthy or reliable, much less one such as Lindsey Graham. I think he can be trusted to act according to his nature, and relied upon to be a windsock.
Whatever they may say or do, however they may hedge their bets, the top Republicans in the Senate know which way the winds are blowing, and it’s not due Trump.