In Trump’s first months in office, Graham continued to oppose his anti-Muslim scapegoating. In January, he and John McCain became two of the few Republican senators to strongly condemn Trump’s temporary ban on admitting refugees and travellers from seven majority-Muslim countries. “We should not turn our backs on those refugees who have been shown through extensive vetting to pose no demonstrable threat to our nation,” Graham and McCain argued. “Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism … [it] sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country.” At the confirmation hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, Graham warned that if Trump starts “waterboarding people” he may “get impeached.”
Since then, however, as he and Trump have grown chummier, Graham’s tone has changed. In his Fox interview, Graham twice applauded Trump for recognizing “that we’re in a religious war.” In other words, he applauded Trump for doing exactly the thing Graham has in the past denounced him for doing: defining the war against ISIS as a war against Islam. Graham later explained that, in his mind, this “religious war” is against not Islam per se but merely “a sect in Islam.” But there’s plenty of evidence that Trump doesn’t make such subtle distinctions. Trump said during the campaign, after all, that, “Islam hates us.” He called for a moratorium on all Muslim immigration. And then he called for halting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations. Once upon a time, those actions outraged Graham. Now he celebrates the mentality behind them.
Graham also cheered Trump for making “sure when somebody comes into the country from a place where radical Islam, and that’s the enemy, thrives, then we’re going to ask extra hard questions.” But the United States already asked hard questions. Before Trump, as The New York Times has pointed out, America subjected refugees to a 20-step security process so onerous that it took up to two years. Graham once recognized that. In his condemnation of Trump’s first travel ban, he cited the “refugees who have been shown through extensive vetting to pose no demonstrable threat to our nation.” Trump isn’t asking “hard questions.” He’s looking for pretexts to radically slash the number of refugees America takes in. And Graham, who in 2015 said that if the U.S. stopped taking its fair share of refugees it should “take the Statue of Liberty and tear it down … because we don’t mean it anymore,” now seems perfectly content with that.
Under Trump, Graham gleefully told Fox, “The gloves are off.” That’s an odd thing to celebrate given Trump’s very public enthusiasm for torture, and Graham’s very public opposition to it. But Graham is less public about a lot of the issues on which he once opposed Trump. And, as a result, American Muslims seem to have lost one of the few Republicans willing to defend their rights just when they need him most.