I asked Graham if he considered himself part of the wider Trump orbit or the more select one. “Well, I’m getting into the smaller orbit now,” he said. I asked him who else was in that precinct of the Trump solar system. He mentioned Melania, Ivanka, Jared. “He’s got a bunch of old friends that still have a say, New York types,” Graham said. “But the circle is small.”
Trump is an entertainer and an agitator, which Graham says he can relate to, in a way. “The point with Trump is, he’s in on the joke,” Graham said. I asked Graham if he is in on the joke, too. “Oh, 100 percent, 100 percent.” He laughed. “Oh, people have no idea.” I asked him to explain the joke to me. “If you could go to dinner with us. … ” he said, shaking his head.
At the end of our second interview, in mid-February, I asked Graham if he trusted Trump. Graham’s eyes seemed to bulge for a split second. He sat back in his chair and paused. “That’s a good question,” he told me.
He paused some more. “Do I trust him?” he said at last. “I trust the president to want to be successful,” he said. The president’s mercurialness, he acknowledged, could be a problem. “He will change his mind in a New York minute,” Graham said. “You never know where he’ll be. I mean, I woke up one day, and we’re pulling out of Syria.”
But to this point, he and Trump have been able to work together. “He’s asked me to do some things, and I’ve asked him to do some things in return,” Graham said. Then, as if looking wistfully over his shoulder at his old maverick-sidekick days, he offered, “There’s sort of a Don Quixote aspect to this.” It was an odd thing for a man who was espousing the median Republican-circa-2019 position to say.
“At the intersection of all this theater is that he wants to be a successful president,” Graham said of Trump, “and I want him to be successful under terms that I think are good for the country.” Understood, but unspoken, was that these terms would also be good for Lindsey Graham.