What changed since 2016? A neoconservative, in Irving Kristol’s famous formulation, was a liberal who’d been mugged by reality. Neo-Trumpers like Graham, then, are NeverTrumpers who were mugged by—what, exactly? Necessity? Expediency? Sean Hannity?
To hear Graham tell it, policy is what changed his mind. “He’s on track to do big things,” Graham says of the president. “He built up the military. I campaigned on it. He got out of the Iran deal. I campaigned on it. He’s destroying ISIL. I campaigned on it. He’s restructuring the tax code and the way we do business. I campaigned on it. He’s doing much of what I campaigned on, and I’m pleased.” Graham now speaks regularly with Trump and has become a close ally on matters ranging from North Korea to health care.
What about the issues of temperament that in 2016 made Trump, in Graham’s view, unfit to be president? Is there anything specific, I ask, that has convinced the senator that Trump isn’t the “kook” Graham called him back then? “One, I got to know him,” Graham says. “I’ve played golf with him. You know, play golf with somebody for three or four hours, you get to know them better. He’s funny as hell. He’s got a great sense of humor. There’s a method to the madness.”