Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Opinion writer

You can never be cynical enough in the era of Trump. The most passionate Republican defender of the rule of law will, without blinking an eye, vote to confirm judges rated unqualified by the American Bar Association, make scurrilous charges against the FBI and ignore President Trump’s attacks on the First Amendment. The most self-righteous defenders of religious freedom will be the loudest cheerleaders for the noxious Muslim travel ban. The most dogged hawk will find no fault with Trump’s denial of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The staunchest defender of Senate traditions will dispense with the filibuster for all judges and ram through major tax legislation with no final Congressional Budget Office scoring.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has set the bar high for utter sycophancy and hypocrisy for praising Trump on matters large and tiny. He set a new low (high) in moral self-debasement when he declared on Monday on “The View”: “I said he was a xenophobic, race-baiting religious bigot. I ran out of things to say. He won. … He’s our president.”

Think about that for a moment. Was Graham lying then when he called out Trump (for, among other things, insulting Sen. John McCain and other former prisoners of war), or has it simply become inconvenient to mention such things? It’s the perfect embodiment of Republicans’ reverence for power at the expense of decency; it exquisitely embodies the notion that support for Trump must supplant support for democratic norms (which he violates) and defense of the country from dangers he invites (e.g. war with North Korea) or ignores (e.g. Russian manipulation of our election). Graham is not the only one to reflect this mind-set, to be sure. He’s merely the most buffoonish and shameless of the lot.

Trump winning the presidency does not make him any less a “xenophobic, race-baiting religious bigot,” but it makes Graham infinitely less principled. Trump’s constant  debasement of democratic norms and reckless international conduct, however, does not bother Graham or most of his colleagues.

We should be clear that “accepting” Trump is president does not alleviate the need to work on a transactional basis to head off disaster. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) hasn’t taken back a word of criticism of the president, but he is working with the White House to head off a disastrous decision to allow sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to resume, thereby making the United States an international pariah while Iran can boast that it is complying with the deal. That’s a far cry from saying, “I said that Trump needs adult day care, but he’s still president, so isn’t he grand?!” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has not recanted any attacks on the president, yet he is struggling to win parity for domestic funding in the budget and get protection for the “dreamers.” The choice is not between slavish devotion and refusing to interact with the president. Rather, it is whether one ceases to hold Trump to standards that every president should meet.

The Trumpers’ mentality that suggests critics simply submit to the rule of Trump and cease efforts to reveal his unfitness mirrors the same disdain for dissent that Trump and his staff betray. (Shhh! You’ve lost. He’s president!) That is not how any democracy operates, nor does it reflect the way that Trump flunkies continued to go after Democratic presidents after they were elected (sometimes with good reason and sometimes with none at all).

And by the way, when it comes to “winning,” the large majority of Americans agree with Democrats’ and NeverTrump Republicans in their assessment of the president. Big election drubbings in 2017 reflect the public’s assessment of the president and the party that has sold its soul to put and keep him in office. Meanwhile, as we pointed out, the GOP is shedding voters.

In December, a Quinnipiac University poll found:

Voters disapprove 57 – 37 percent of the job President Trump is doing, consistent with findings for the last four months. Trump has hit or topped the 40 percent approval mark four times since he was inaugurated. His highest approval, 42 percent, was in February.

The Russian government tried to influence the 2016 presidential election, voters say 73 – 22 percent, including Republicans by a narrow 50 – 45 percent.

Voters say 41 – 28 percent this interference changed the outcome of the election.

And American voters say 57 – 38 percent Trump has attempted to “derail or obstruct the investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 election.” By a narrow 48 – 44 percent, American voters say Trump did not collude with the Russian government to influence the election, but voters say 52 – 40 percent that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.

As for the GOP quislings, they might want to look at another data point: “Republicans in Congress put party over country, American voters say 74 – 19 percent. Republican voters are divided as 46 percent say their party puts country first and 45 percent say it’s party first.” Yes, not even a majority of Republicans think Republicans put “America first.”

In sum, the disagreeable reality that so many Republicans would toss morality, democratic norms and respect for truth overboard for Trump is not a sign that Trump’s critics have lost. It is rather evidence of the shrinking GOP’s intellectual and moral corruption. That mind-set is sinking the party while the kowtowing of Republicans to Trump brings them closer by the day to electoral disaster.