South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is something of a mystery to me. Clearly he's a shrewd politician, having served in the Senate for the better part of two decades now and risen to chair one of the most powerful panels in the Senate Judiciary Committee. But every once in a while he says or does something so unexpected and out of character that I have to stop and wonder what the hell sort of game he's playing at — or if he's even playing one at all.
On Thursday I had one of those moments.
It came during the last day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump's nominee to fill late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court. There, Graham was opining on the fact that Barrett makes perfect sense as a conservative nominee for the highest court in the land, because she was nominated by a conservative president, and, well, that's just how things go, right folks?
Watch the whole thing below:
There are a few things happening here. First and foremost, Graham is making the extremely obvious point that conservative presidents nominate conservative judges, while Democrats look for people like "Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor and [Elena] Kagan."
He continued (emphasis mine):
Y'all have a good chance of winning the White House. I don't know where the polls are going to be ... I think it's true. I think the public will go into the voting booth and they'll say, 'Okay, I've seen the kind of judges Democrats will nominate, I've seen the kind of judges Republicans will nominate.' That will be important to people. I think that Judge Barrett is exactly the kind of person that you would expect any Republican president to consider.
Try to follow the logic here.
1) The public will consider the sort of judges each party typically nominates when they vote.
2) Judge Barrett is "exactly" the sort of judge a Republican president would nominate.
3) The Democrats have a good chance of winning the presidency.
4) Barrett is eminently qualified to be a Supreme Court justice, so, confirm her anyway.
There's also another possible interpretation of Graham's quote, one that is equal parts hilarious and sad: Graham knows that the type of Supreme Court nominees each party prefers is "important to people." And those people will see that Republicans nominated Barrett, take that information with them to the polls, and then vote Democrat, giving Democrats a great chance to retake the White House.
Any way you slice it, it's a baffling quote for Graham. Either he is giving up the game by confirming that Barrett needs to be confirmed ASAP because time is running out for the GOP, and couching it behind some invented argument that he trusts her "disposition" not to be an activist justice. Or he's just musing aloud about how unpopular judges like Barrett are among the general public and acknowledging that forcing through her confirmation will cost Republicans the White House. Or maybe he's throwing sand in the gears of the election by offering a soundbite-friendly prediction that could help dampen Democratic enthusiasm by making voters complacent ahead of (what he's framing as) a foregone conclusion to the race.
Either way, it seems likely that the president himself will eventually get word of Graham's not-so-rosy Election Day prediction, and I'd bet he'll have some fun things to say about that. Stay tuned!