And then, after a few rounds of golf with Trump, he professed himself to have been converted, praised Trump to the skies, condemned the Russia investigation, and even called for a criminal investigation of the persons involved. Now the honeymoon is apparently over, as Trump shot down Graham's proposed compromise on immigration, and Graham is forthrightly condemning his actions.
What gives? There are several theories on why the Trump-skeptical Graham suddenly became such a fan.
A Trump charm offensive. Maybe Trump turned on the charm and totally won Graham over. By all accounts, Trump's public persona -- overbearing, obnoxious, relentlessly self-promoting, and unable to focus for more than a few minutes on anything other than his own self-aggrandizement -- is exactly what he is like in private, too. How could anyone possibly be won over by that?
Fear of a primary challenge. My immediate thought upon hearing Graham become such a fan was to wonder if he was up for election in 2018, in which case he would need to be seen as a fan in order to survive the primaries. But the answer appears to be no, Graham is not up for reelection until 2020. So much for that.
Planning ahead against a primary challenge. Maybe Graham is thinking ahead until 2020 to the 2020 election, recognizing that traditional Democratic constituencies turn out in higher numbers in Presidential election years than off-years and decided he should start shoring up his Republican base. It is possible.
Hope for a Cabinet position. Trump is on the outs with both his Secretary of State and his Attorney General. Some people suspect that Graham is sucking up in hopes of getting one of these posts. But Trump seems strangely unwilling to fire either official despite their differences. And besides, given how he treats his Cabinet Secretaries, why on earth would Graham want to subject himself to that sort of abuse, at the cost of ending his Senate career?
Blackmail. We know that the Russians hacked both the Democrats and the Republicans, but only released the Democratic e-mails. Does that mean they are holding the Republicans' e-mails in reserve for blackmail?* It seems likely. But would the Russians share such information with Trump? Successful blackmail depends on not revealing the secret so long as the victim submits. Trump is the type who couldn't keep his mouth shut if you sutured it, which makes him a terrible blackmailer. But even more significantly, Graham's current open anger at Trump is hardly consistent with him being blackmailed into surrender.
So I have a new theory as to Graham's strange infatuation with Trump. He was sucking up in an attempt to win Trump's support for his immigration bill. It didn't work. I guess Graham's future behavior should reveal whether this hypothesis is correct.
*Someone objected that it seems unlikely that Republicans would openly e-mail anything blackmailable. But I don't think they would have to be discussing any actual crimes. Simply trash-talking Trump and plotting to prevent him from being nominated would be more than enough to bring the Orange Demagogue's rage down on their heads and wreck their political careers.