In an interview with Axios on HBO, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spoke about former President Donald Trump’s influence on the Republican Party, saying he thinks Trump has the power that can make the party “bigger” and “stronger,” or he “could destroy it.”
“I mean it’s just this bigger-than-life deal. He could make the Republican Party something that nobody else I know can make it. He can make it bigger. He can make it stronger. He can make it more diverse. And he also could destroy it,” Graham told Axios’ Jonathan Swan.
Graham warned that Trump had the power to destroy the Republican Party after the former president took aim at “Republicans in Name Only,” or RINOs, in a keynote remarks late last month at CPAC 2021.
“The RINOs that we’re surrounded with will destroy the Republican Party and the American worker and will destroy our country itself. The RINOs, Republican in name only,” Trump said at CPAC. “But the Republican Party is united. The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C. establishment, political hacks, and everybody else all over the country. I think we have tremendous unity.”
The former president in his remarks vowed to be heavily involved in the 2022 midterms, calling out the 10 House and 7 Senate GOP lawmakers who voted for his impeachment by warning them that he plans to challenge them and will throw his weight behind their primary opponents. Since his CPAC remarks held at Orlando, Florida this year, Trump has been reporting plotting behind the scene to back and financially support Trump-aligned Republican candidates through his Save America SuperPAC.
Over the weekend, Trump made it official with his first Senate target — Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. In a statement, the former president said he plans to travel to Alaska ahead of the 2022 midterm elections to campaign against the moderate GOP Senator, calling her “very bad” and “disloyal.” Murkowski was one of seven Republican senators who crossed over and joined all 50 Democrats to vote to convict him in last month’s Senate impeachment trial.
The South Carolina Senator told Axios that he believes the former president encompasses a “bigger-than-life deal,” describing Trump as “sort of a cross between Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, and P.T. Barnum.”
Graham also described Trump as having two sides — both a “dark side” along with “some magic there,” noting that he is trying to “harness the magic” because the former president succeeded in creating a “movement” he believes is “good for the country,” compared to previous Republican presidential candidates like Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Mitt Romney of Utah who failed in culminating the GOP movement.
“Mitt Romney didn’t do it. John McCain didn’t do it. There’s something about Trump. There’s a dark side and there’s some magic there,” Graham said.
“What I’m tryin’ to do is just harness the magic,” Graham added. “To me, Donald Trump is sort of a cross between Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, and P.T. Barnum.”
One of the president’s closest allies on Capitol Hill during Trump’s four years in office, Graham helped the former president confirm multiple justices to the Supreme Court as a leading member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, the event of the Capitol riots became a turning point for many Republicans close to the president. Following the clearance of the mob that had stormed the Capitol earlier on Jan. 6, lawmakers reconvened in the evening to finish the joint session of the election certification process.
Graham in a floor speech hours later called on his Senate colleagues to end the objection in delaying the certification of the electoral college votes and recognizing Joe Biden as the President-elect, saying “enough is enough,”
“Trump and I, we had a hell of a journey,” Graham said on the Senate floor on the evening of January 6. “I hate it being this way. Oh my God, I hate it … but today all I can say is count me out. Enough is enough. I tried to be helpful.”
Despite condemning Trump for fueling the attacks on the Capitol just hours after Congress officially certified the victory to Biden in the early morning hours, followed by being accosted by Trump supporters at Reagan National Airport, Graham admits he is reengaging purposefully.
“Donald Trump was my friend before the riot. And I’m trying to keep a relationship with him after the riot. I still consider him a friend. What happened was a dark day in American history, and we’re going to move forward,” Graham said. “I want us to continue the policies that I think will make America strong. I believe the best way for the Republican Party to do that is with Trump, not without Trump.”