Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News on Tuesday that unless the Republican party has the backing of former President Donald Trump, the GOP doesn’t have a “snowball’s chance in hell” of taking back the Senate majority in the 2022 mid-term election.
“Trump is the most consequential Republican in the party,” Graham said, adding that while the former president “can be a handful,” Republican leaders need to work with him for the good of the GOP and the country.
“I’m more worried about 2022 than I’ve ever been. I don’t want to eat our own,” Graham said, referring to the feud between Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who while he voted to acquit Trump at his impeachment trial, later rebuked him as “morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 unrest at the Capitol.
Trump hit back with a strongly-worded statement on Tuesday, calling McConnell “a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” who was “destroying the Republican side of the Senate” and who “will never do what needs to be done, or what is right for our Country.”
Graham argued on Hannity that McConnell had been “indispensable” to Trump during his time in office and urged the two to tone things down and work together.
“I know Trump can be a handful, but he is the most dominant figure in the Republican Party,” Graham said. “We don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of taking back the majority without Donald Trump.”
“If Mitch McConnell doesn’t understand that, he’s missing a lot,” Graham said.
“We need to knock this off. Kevin McCarthy is the leader of the House Republicans. He has taken a different approach to President Trump. I would advise Senator McConnell to do that,” Graham said.
The South Carolina Republican was presumably referring to the fact that after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) initially criticized Trump after the Jan. 6 incident, he later toned down his rhetoric and traveled to Florida to meet with Trump, with the two discussing working together to help the GOP to take back the Senate in 2022.
Graham’s remarks highlight the schism in the GOP between pro-Trump elected officials and the wing led by the likes of McConnell and House leadership member Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who voted to impeach Trump last month.
Several Republican senators who voted to convict Trump over the weekend were subsequently censured by their respective state GOP. Cheney, meanwhile, will face a Republican primary challenger for her seat in 2022.
“I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First,” Trump wrote in his Tuesday statement. “We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership,” Trump said.
McConnell, after voting to acquit Trump on the charge of “incitement of insurrection” in his impeachment trial, issued a scathing rebuke, in which he said Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day” and accused the former president of a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, McConnell later wrote that Trump’s “supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world’s largest megaphone” and that his “behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable.”
Trump and his lawyers denied that he incited the violence on Jan. 6, with his attorneys calling the “incitement of insurrection” charge a “monstrous lie” that didn’t reflect the reality of what happened when the Capitol was breached and overrun.
“An insurrection—unlike a riot—is an organized movement acting for the express purpose to overthrow and take possession of a government’s powers,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in filings, arguing that the former president’s speech “was not an act encouraging an organized movement to overthrow the United States government.”
On Feb. 13, the Senate acquitted Trump with a 57–43 vote, 10 votes shy of the 67 needed for a “guilty” verdict.
In a statement following his acquittal, Trump thanked his supporters and denounced the impeachment effort as a “witch hunt.”
Trump also teased a political comeback, saying that, “our historic, patriotic, and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people.”
Trump has largely remained out of sight since leaving office on Jan. 20, releasing few statements and mostly communicating through intermediaries.
Former Trump campaign strategist Jason Miller said last month that Trump will become active in politics again to “make sure” Republicans win back their majority in 2022.
Meanwhile, three-quarters of Republicans told Quinnipiac University pollsters that they want Trump to play a prominent role in the Republican Party.
“He is certainly not out of favor with the GOP. Twice impeached, vilified by Democrats in the trial, and virtually silenced by social media … despite it all, Donald Trump keeps a solid foothold in the Republican Party,” Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy said in a Feb. 15 release.