Sen. Graham's challenge: Fill a court seat and save his own

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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., listens at a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/New York Times, Pool via AP)

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Few members of the Republican Party have taken a political journey as long as Lindsey Graham’s, from ridiculing Donald Trump as a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot" to becoming one of the president's fiercest defenders in Congress, as well as a regular golf partner.

Graham has long been known to have flexible politics, and that has served him well in South Carolina for decades. But this November may be his toughest test yet as he seeks reelection and explains to voters how, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will push for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee on the president’s aggressive timetable, when the senator was so clearly — even defiantly — opposed to that approach as recently as two years ago, even demanding that he be called out for hypocrisy if he switched.

He switched.

“The rules have changed as far as I’m concerned,” Graham said Saturday.

It falls to Graham, as committee chairman, to vet Trump’s pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and manage the spectacle of televised hearings on the nomination. It’s one of the most volatile tasks in all of politics, more so now with a pandemic raging, a country on edge, and the ideological tilt of the high court in the balance, perhaps for a generation.

And, Graham has Jaime Harrison to worry about.

The Democratic Senate candidate is running close to Graham, according to one recent poll, despite the conservative tilt of South Carolina, and is matching the three-term incumbent in fundraising that has yielded a total of more than $30 million apiece.

Harrison hopes to use the shifting Supreme Court stance against Graham, as does a pro-Harrison political action committee which, along with The Lincoln Project, is up with a $1 million ad buy aiming to use Graham's own 2018 pledge to oppose future election-year confirmations to the court. The Lincoln Project is a group of current and former Republican officials looking to defeat Trump.