Sen. Lindsey Graham says he still considers former President Donald Trump “a friend” despite his “dark side.”
The South Carolina Republican mostly had praise for the 45th president during an interview with Jonathan Swan on Axios on HBO, saying Trump remains a critical part of the GOP.
“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 … [because] he could make the Republican Party something that nobody else I know could make it,” Graham said. “He could make it bigger. He could make it stronger. He could make it more diverse. And he also could destroy it.”
Calling Trump “a cross between [former Sen.] Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, and P.T. Barnum,” Graham said he hopes to keep a relationship with the former president, even after the events of Jan. 6, due to his importance to the future of the Republican Party.
“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,” he said. “What happened was a dark day in American history, and we’re going to move forward. … 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.”
Trump, who vowed during his Feb. 28 address to the Conservative Political Action Conference not to start a third party, reaffirmed his commitment to the GOP, calling the party he envisions a “party of love.”
“The future of the Republican Party is as a party that defends the social, economic, and cultural interests and values of working American families of every race, color, and creed,” Trump said.
Still, tension remains between Trump and the establishment wing of the party, a handful of whom voted for the former president’s impeachment or conviction. During that same address, Trump rattled off a list of his Republican foes and urged voters to “get rid of them all” when they come up for reelection.
The former president also took aim at the institutional infrastructure of the GOP, sending cease-and-desist letters to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee for using his name and likeness in fundraising emails and on merchandise.
Republicans have largely shrugged off the legal threats.
“Trump’s threats have no teeth,” a senior GOP official said. “What’s he going to do? Sue the RNC?”
Earlier this year, Trump was impeached for “inciting an insurrection” due to his actions leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill siege but was acquitted in the Senate. He had previously been impeached on two Ukraine-related charges in December 2019 before being acquitted in the Senate.