Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) shocked his colleagues and onlookers alike when he voted against the defense supplemental security bill in February.

The decision was a major reversal for Graham, who had spent months working with a bipartisan coalition to get a package aiding Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, and the U.S. southern border to the Senate floor. He was an adviser in the bipartisan border security talks for the GOP side before that deal fell apart, eventually becoming an opponent of the bill for lacking a border component.

Despite making multiple process arguments against the supplemental package itself, Graham was viewed before last month’s vote as one of the Republican Party’s staunchest supporters of U.S. involvement in Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s military invasion. He visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv last May and slammed the Biden administration for not doing enough to help Ukraine win.

But in addition to voting against the package, Graham announced at the time that he would be skipping the annual Munich Security Conference, a mainstay for defense hawks.

“For me to be able to convince people in South Carolina to continue to support conflicts overseas, I have to prove to them I get it when they tell me, ‘What about their own country,” Graham said last month. “So I’m not going to Munich, I’m going to the southern border.”

He also called on the House to amend the bill to heed former President Donald Trump’s suggestion to provide Ukraine the aid as a conditional loan.

“I talked to President Trump today and he’s dead set against this package,” Graham said in his floor speech. “He thinks that we should make packages like this a loan, not a gift.”

The legislation currently sits on House Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) desk with no chance of receiving a vote without House lawmakers forcing floor consideration through a discharge petition.

The South Carolina senator maintains that he still supports Ukraine and wants U.S. aid to reach Kyiv, and his team declined to comment to the Washington Examiner on his political evolution, but his vote highlights the significant transition he’s undergone over the last decade.

Prior to Trump’s rise, Graham was described as one of the Senate’s most liberal Republicans whose conservative bona fides came largely from his ardent support for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He reveled in engaging in battles with Tea Party lawmakers in both chambers, despite being a former House conservative himself. Even while running in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, Graham argued that voters were ready for a conservative known for bipartisan dealmaking. 

Graham was a staunch critic of Trump throughout the early days of the 2016 campaign, with the former even endorsing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whom he personally dislikes, to try and prevent Trump from becoming the party’s nominee.

Flash forward to 2024, where Graham is voting against a package aiding three U.S. allies in their military fights over process issues and insufficient border measures – and yet still getting booed at Trump rallies. 

Trying to quell some of those boos at a rally last September, Trump explained that Graham “helps me on the left. We need help sometimes. Republicans shouldn’t need help from the left, but he helps me.”

Asked by the Washington Examiner last September about the GOP’s continued support for the former president, Graham said: “Here’s where the party is at: the party thinks Trump deserves another shot. Whether he wins or not, I don’t know, but they think he deserves another shot because, generally speaking, he was a good president on things that most of us care about. It’s never been more complicated than that. They think people are out to get him, that a lot of this stuff is designed just to knock him off the ballot, is politically motivated, and that he’s sort of a victim of the out-of-control Left.”

“We’re gonna give him, the Republicans, a Mulligan,” he added. “It is up to him to hit it quick.”

The behavior has left some Republican colleagues shaking their heads.

“Sen. Graham is generally very strong on NATO, very strong on European security, and he’s also legitimately concerned with the border. But for whatever reason, I just don’t think that he’s been able to compartmentalize those now,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), a centrist with a similar penchant for bipartisanship and another adviser on the border deal, told the Washington Examiner this week. “I hope that we can get him back there, or through whatever mechanism necessary get [the Senate-passed supplemental] out of the House.”

Others argued that the shift is far less perplexing if Graham intends to maintain his influence in Republican politics.

“Fifteen of the last 17 [Republican] senators elected have been in [the conservative] direction or either headed towards it since I came here in 2018. That’s a pretty big number,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), who is retiring from the Senate to run for governor of Indiana, said. “Now, Lindsey would not be in that because he’s in the decades club.”

“Lindsey, I think, knows the party in general,” Braun explained, adding that Graham has the ability to “see where things are going. I don’t think he’s in lockstep on everything, none of us are like that, but I think there’s a clear trend.”

Braun went on to cite Graham’s vote against the supplemental and support for Trump’s idea to only provide Ukraine assistance through conditional loans going forward as evidence of “his continuing evolution towards maybe at least some fiscal conservatism.”

Asked why Graham and other Republicans voted against the supplemental, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) offered a simpler explanation.

“It’s Trump,” Schatz said. “I think there are a lot of people trying to come up with sophisticated explanations when it’s exactly what it looks like.”

“If you are a Republican because you believe in muscular foreign policy, if you believe in constitutional principles, if you believe in just being cautious about change, then this is not your Republican Party and we welcome you into the Democratic coalition,” he added.