Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he thinks former President Donald Trump could make the Republican Party “bigger” and “stronger,” or lead the party to its destruction.
The South Carolina senator made the comments to Axios on HBO while reflecting on his support for the former president. This comes as Republicans are assessing their path ahead post-Trump presidency.
Graham, who was critical of then-candidate Trump prior to the 2016 election, has stood by the former president on major issues throughout his administration. But he has also broken with Trump on a number of decisions, including the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
“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 said.
The senator criticized Trump following the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol and had expressed opposition to his Republican colleagues’ efforts to challenge the electoral college votes. When pressed about why he still supports Trump despite criticizing him, Graham said he believes the former president and his America First agenda are “good for the country.”
“I want this to continue. I want to continue the policies that I think would make America strong. Probably the best way for the Republican Party to do that is with Trump, not without Trump,” he said.
Trump has done what past Republican presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney had failed to achieve, Graham added.
“There’s something about Trump. There’s a dark side and there’s some magic there,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is just harness the magic.”
Trump has focused much effort on helping the Republican party take back the House and the Senate in 2022 since leaving office. During a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 28, the former president talked of the influence he had on the Republican base and laid out a roadmap for the future for the party.
“I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we began together four years ago is far from over,” Trump said, referring to his Make America Great Again agenda.
He outlined a party platform focused on restoring election integrity, reopening schools, stopping illegal immigration, standing up to China, and breaking up big tech monopolies, among other issues. He has also vowed to campaign against Republican lawmakers who have worked to undermine his American First agenda, such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
A CPAC straw poll conducted with attendees of the conservative event indicated that Trump still commands a solid lead for preferred presidential candidate. When pitted against 20 other potential GOP primary candidates, 55 percent of respondents said they would vote for Trump in a hypothetical primary.
Meanwhile, 68 percent of respondents said that they would like to see Trump run for president again in 2024.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.