C’mon, seriously. What explains this bizarre degree of sycophancy? We’re long past the point now of Graham needing to demonstrate his fealty to Trump in order to deter a primary challenge in South Carolina. There are no serious challengers on tap there and he was notoriously tough to beat even in the “Grahamnesty” days when the populist right hated him. His job approval back home this quarter is the highest it’s been since Trump was inaugurated. He’s impossible to beat.

Which is a long way of saying that his comment about the new rape allegations is inexplicable as a political pander.

So what explains it?

I can’t find audio or video of what Graham said or even a longer transcript right now but Fandos and Brodey are reporters for the NYT and Daily Beast, respectively. A HuffPost reporter quotes Graham a bit further:

That’s better, at least allowing that he’d consider other evidence if it came to light, but it’s bizarre that he’s treating Trump’s denial as otherwise conclusive. Anyone accused of rape will deny it. To a lawyer, that shouldn’t say a thing about innocence or guilt. And Graham is one of the most ostentatiously lawyerly members of the Senate, a guy who’s been touted in the past as a potential Attorney General. He spent years as a JAG in the Air Force. He’s the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, for cripes sake. He distinguished himself during the Kavanaugh hearings for his impassioned advocacy on behalf of the nominee, hammering two points. First, that there was no corroborating evidence that Kavanaugh attacked Christine Blasey Ford, and second, that Kavanaugh had conducted himself with exemplary character for his entire adult life.

Neither of those things are true in the Trump/Carroll case. Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women, and Graham himself would have talked your ear off circa 2015 about the president’s character flaws. Meanwhile, Carroll has claimed publicly that she told two friends at the time about the Trump incident and New York magazine says they verified that claim with the two people. Why would a former JAG accept a denial of rape when there are two witnesses out there who might shed light on the accuser’s credibility?

The weird thing about this spin is that it’s not even helpful to Trump. Graham could have seized the opportunity to point out some of the less credible elements of Carroll’s account, as I did here. (A chance encounter leading to attempted rape in a crowded Manhattan department store — and no one saw or heard anything?) Or he could have said, “Rape accusations need to be taken seriously but look at what Michael Avenatti and Julie Swetnick tried to pull on Brett Kavanaugh. Politically motivated smears need to be taken seriously too. Jean Carroll should go to the police or to court if she has a claim. I’m not sure how the public can draw a conclusion otherwise.” Framing it in terms of “Trump denied it and that’s all I needed to know” advertises the fact that it’s sycophancy that’s driving his judgment. Or, worse, signals that loyalty to the president requires one to dismiss yet rape accusations out of hand, without a moment’s thought as to the weight of the evidence.

But maybe this is just how Graham deals with rape cases. After the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed its vote on Kavanaugh last year to give the FBI a few days to interview witnesses, he vowed that he wouldn’t even read their report.

His presumptive opponent in South Carolina next year, who’s going to get completely destroyed, is nonetheless trying to leverage this:

Graham won his race by 17 points in 2014, a midterm election. He’ll likely improve upon that in 2020, with Trump at the top of the ballot. Again: He’s in no political danger whatsoever. So why say something like this? Did Trump promise him that we’re going to invade Iran soon or something?