Lindsey Graham on Thursday delivered a scathing rebuke of Republican candidates — especially Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump — for alienating Hispanic and female voters with “hard-ass” policies and hateful rhetoric.
“How many of you believe that we’re losing elections because we’re not hard-ass enough on immigration?” Graham asked during his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, D.C.
A few people in the room clapped, and Graham responded: “Well, I don’t agree with you. I believe we are losing the Hispanic vote because they think we don’t like them.”
Graham hit back hard on the Texas Republican senator’s remarks that opened the RJC forum, during which Cruz argued that the Republican Party would never beat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton with a moderate or centrist nominee. As part of his answer to a question on how to sway pro-choice voters to support him in the general election, Cruz mentioned the need to turn out more evangelical voters.
“I believe that it is not about turning out evangelical Christians,” Graham said. “It is about repairing the damage done by incredibly hateful rhetoric driving a wall between us and the fastest-growing demographic in America, who should be Republicans.”
Graham’s speech wasn’t the one he planned, he said — he had intended to talk about his most recent trip to Iraq and his foreign policy strategy.
“I’ll get there in a minute," he said, "but after Mr. Cruz, I want to talk to you about winning an election."
Cruz’s strategy of playing to the conservative base is setting the party up for oblivion, Graham said. Instead, Republicans should focus on bringing new voters into the fold, he said.
“It’s about looking the Hispanic American in the eye and saying, ‘We get it. You’re pro-life, you’re entrepreneurial, you’re hard-working, you’re very patriotic,’” Graham said. "'Be part of our cause.'"
He also knocked Republican voters for letting leading candidates off the hook for inflammatory statements. “Do you want to win this election?” Graham asked the crowd. “Well, start taking everything that we say seriously — and push back when we make absolutely no sense.”
Graham took aim at businessman Donald Trump for his tone on illegal immigration, arguing that he’s pushing voters away from the Republican party. “I believe Donald Trump is destroying Republicans’ chance to win an election that we can’t afford to lose,” Graham said.
Mitt Romney made a mistake when promoting the idea of self-deportation as a presidential candidate, Graham said. And now, Trump has taken the idea even farther, he added.
“Now it’s not self-deportation, it’s forced deportation,” Graham continued. “We’re literally going to round them up. That sound familiar to you? Every one of them, including their American citizen children. That’s the leader of the Republican Party."
Many in the Republican Party have a problem with female voters because of their stances on abortion, Graham argued — for example, not allowing an exception in cases of rape or incest alienates most Americans, he said. “If the nominee of the Republican party will not allow for an exception for rape and incest, they will not win,” he said. “Ted Cruz doesn’t have an exception for rape or incest.”
The general election will become a debate about abortion — rather than the threat from the Islamic State or other foreign policy concerns — if that’s the nominee’s stance, Graham said.
“It will be about the nominee of the Republican Party telling a woman who’s been raped, you’ve got to carry the child of the rapist,” Graham said. “Good luck with that.”
At this point, Graham noted that he hadn’t planned to go after Cruz and Trump, but he felt the need to react to Cruz’s speech.
“Not the speech you thought you were going to hear, right? Not the speech I thought I was going to give,” Graham said. “But he didn’t answer the question. … I am going to answer the question: We will lose if that’s the position of the nominee of the Republican Party. We will lose young women in droves.”