If Trump’s message was “I alone can fix it,“ Graham’s message is “I’m like you.“ She has adopted her father’s tradition of spending entire days on the campaign trail working ordinary jobs alongside ordinary Floridians, learning about their lives, helping them pick weeds at a peanut farm or install solar panels on a roof or fight the opioid crisis at a clinic. She often talks about what a normal person she is—how she worked as a cocktail waitress in college, how she retrieves items off high shelves for short shoppers at Publix, how she fan-girled “like a crazy stalker” when she met the Manhattan spin-class teacher whose app she uses on her exercise bike. There’s nothing normal about Trump, and Graham is making an implicit case for a less exhausting, less erratic, less stressful brand of politics that doesn’t dominate every news cycle. She’ll never inflame a packed arena crowd into a screaming frenzy, but she’ll never pay hush money to a porn star or fire off an all-caps insult tweet, either.
The thing is, Trump’s violations of norms and defiance of convention helped get him to the White House. He upended the rules of the campaign trail with his bad-boy energy, transforming politics into a spectacle of cultural resentment, thrilling his supporters by flaming and shaming and nicknaming his enemies. Graham has always been a good girl who follows the rules, which just isn’t as exciting as flaunting them. She told me the classically un-Trumpian story of the worst thing she ever did as a teenager, cutting school to groom her horse for a show, a two-hour adventure in truancy that ended when she felt so guilty she called her school to confess. “I’m such a goody-two-shoes,” Graham said with a sheepish grin. “What did they call me, clean as bleach? I think they meant I’m boring.”