WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had a message on Thursday night for Republicans attempting to shed the party of its association with former president Donald Trump: It can’t happen.
“Can we move forward without President Trump? The answer is no,” Graham said in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
In response to the GOP aiming to remove Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from her leadership post as third-ranking House Republican, Graham said he disagreed with her criticism of Trump and the assessment that the party is stronger without the former president.
“I’ve always liked Liz Cheney, but she’s made a determination that the Republican Party can’t grow with President Trump,” Graham continued. “I’ve determined we can’t grow without him.”
Graham’s comments come as the push to replace Cheney as the third-ranking House Republican has intensified this week. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was caught on a hot mic on Tuesday complaining about Cheney, saying, “I’ve had it with her … someone just has to bring a motion.” Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the second-ranking Republican in the House, endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who appears to be the prohibitive favorite to succeed Cheney, the following day.
Cheney on Wednesday urged Republicans “to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution” and rebuke Trumpism, adding that she would continue to speak out against what Trump has done to her party.
“Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this,” Cheney wrote in The Washington Post. “We Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”
Her words were followed on Thursday by Stefanik again supporting Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen through voter fraud. On the podcast of former Trump campaign and White House aide Stephen Bannon, Stefanik sought to cement her place in leadership less than a week before Republicans are expected to vote Cheney out.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
The South Carolina senator’s sentiments Thursday night echo similar comments he made in March. Speaking with “Axios on HBO,” Graham, one of Trump’s most loyal allies, said that only Trump had the power to turn the Republican Party into whatever form he pleased — or even demolish it.
“He could make the Republican Party something that nobody else I know could make it,” Graham said at the time. “He could make it bigger. He could make it stronger. He could make it more diverse. And he also could destroy it.”
Critics were quick to slam Graham for saying Republicans can’t move on without Trump, and his comments were trending on social media well into Friday. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., tweeted a video of Graham’s comments with lyrics to the Michael Bolton song “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?”
But Graham was steadfast in his stance that the party needed Trump to attract new talent in hope of taking back the Senate or House in next year’s midterm elections. On Thursday night, Graham claimed to Hannity that potential GOP candidates are attracted to “the Trump Republican Party,” saying that conservatives who were against “economic populism” and the former president’s “America First agenda” were not seeing the present and future of the party.
“If you don’t get that as a Republican, you’re making the biggest mistake in the history of the Republican Party,” he said.