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Lindsey Graham on Trump: He could make GOP 'stronger' or 'could destroy it'

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Graham explains why he thinks Republicans should stick with Trump.

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Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), once one of former President Donald Trump's harshest critics, says that the best way forward for the Republican Party is to continue to stand with Trump and his policies.

In an interview with reporter Jonathan Swan for "Axios on HBO," Graham said that Trump has the capability to make the GOP "bigger" and "stronger" or he "could destroy it."

"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.

Graham said he thinks that the "movement" started by Trump is "good for the country," noting that former Republican presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney were unable to galvanize the American people in the way Trump accomplished to win the White House in 2016.

"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. And what I'm trying to do is just harness the magic," Graham told Swan.

He went on to describe the former president as "sort of a cross between Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, and P.T. Barnum."

Graham explained that he's trying to keep in touch with Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and after he voted, against Trump's wishes, to certify the Electoral College results declaring President Joe Biden the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. "Enough is enough," Graham said in an impassioned speech decrying the effort to overturn the election as "the most offensive concept in the world."

But now it's time to move on. "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," he told Swan.

That statement is a far cry from where Lindsey Graham was in 2015, when he himself was running for president against Trump in the Republican primary. During that election, Graham called Trump a "kook," "crazy," and said he was "unfit for office."

"He's a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot," he said on CNN. "He doesn't represent my party."

After Trump won the White House, Graham's tone changed drastically. He once explained to the New York Times magazine that his embrace of Trump was "to try to be relevant" and work with the president to achieve "really good outcomes for the country." Taking Trump's side helped Graham win re-election in South Carolina in 2020, but even now that Graham isn't up for re-election for another six years, he still wants the Republican Party to follow Trump's lead.

"I want us to continue the policies that I think will make America strong," Graham said. "I believe the best way for the Republican Party to do that is with Trump, not without Trump."

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