When I ask Schmidt, McCain’s former senior campaign adviser, about the “moderating influence on Trump” defense of Graham’s behavior, he snorts. “It’s ludicrous,” he says, “but despite its ludicrousness, this will be one of the fundamental arguments in American politics for the next 25 years. ‘No, no, you don’t understand: I was secretly against him while he was debasing his office, dividing the American people, engaged in all manner of abuses of power. I was on the front lines of Mar-a-Lago preventing this!’ It’s an absurdity. For most Republicans, the simple fact is, what they now claim to believe is at odds with what they claimed to believe three years ago. Look at what Lindsey said in 2015 and what he says today. What intervening event occurred that would lend oneself to have such a strong turn?”…

It’s ironic that Graham has adopted Trump’s strategy of appealing to the base and only the base, and it will likely ensure that the onetime highly endangered RINO will coast to reelection, whereas the same strategy could doom the deeply unpopular Trump nationwide. Meanwhile, impeachment looms, with the action turning to the Senate. During an impeachment trial, senators, acting as jurors, must sit in silence as House managers and the president’s lawyers argue the case. But Graham, as one of Trump’s most tireless apologists, will certainly play a role on the defense team, spinning for gaggles of reporters inside the Senate and running interference with his own Judiciary investigation into the Bidens. “After McCain’s passing, I got the sense that Graham was isolated within his own caucus, and that having allies at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue behooved him,” the Democratic Senate staffer says. Now Graham has emerged, unlikely as it would have seemed just a few years ago, as one of the most powerful voices in his party.

“People try to analyze Lindsey through the prism of the manifest inconsistencies that exist between things that he used to believe and what he’s doing now,” Schmidt says. “The way to understand him is to look at what’s consistent. And essentially what he is in American politics is what, in the aquatic world, would be a pilot fish: a smaller fish that hovers about a larger predator, like a shark, living off of its detritus. That’s Lindsey. And when he swam around the McCain shark, broadly viewed as a virtuous and good shark, Lindsey took on the patina of virtue. But wherever the apex shark is, you find the Lindsey fish hovering about, and Trump’s the newest shark in the sea. Lindsey has a real draw to power — but he’s found it unattainable on his own merits.”