WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Thursday that he believes the Republican Party cannot “move forward” without former President Donald Trump as a figurehead.
“I would just say to my Republican colleagues, ‘can we move forward without President Trump?’ The answer is no,” Graham, R-S.C., told Sean Hannity on Fox News.
Graham’s comments come as the GOP is looking to remove Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from her position as chair of the House Republican Conference over her continued criticism of Trump and refusal to perpetuate his false election fraud claims.
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“I’ve always liked Liz Cheney, but she’s made a determination that the Republican Party can’t grow with President Trump. I’ve determined we can’t grow without him,” Graham said.
The longtime supporter of the former president said that working people and minorities are attracted to the Republican Party under Trump because “President Trump appears to be on the side of people working really hard… because he is.”
Cheney’s potential ouster is a signal that the GOP is prioritizing its relationship with Trump in upcoming election fights. She was one of 10 Republicans in the House to vote for Trump’s impeachment over his alleged incitement of the deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6, and she has continued to argue that the party should move away from its focus on Trump.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post this week, she framed the Republican Party as “at a turning point” in whether it will choose “truth and fidelity to the Constitution” or the “cult of personality” of Trump.
Yet, Cheney’s voting record as a congresswoman was closely aligned with Trump’s priorities while he was in office, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis that showed she voted in line with him 92.9% of the time.
GOP leaders and Trump have begun to endorse Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., as a replacement for Cheney. She rose to prominence in the party for her defense of Trump during his first impeachment proceedings over his dealings with Ukraine in 2019. Stefanik voted in line with Trump’s positions 77.7% of the time, the analysis found, but he has said she is the “superior” choice for the leadership role.
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Cheney sidestepped an early attempt to remove her from her role in February shortly after her comments blaming Trump for the riot caused Republicans to ramp up their criticisms of her.
Graham, too, initially laid some of the responsibility for the riot at Trump’s feet, before later saying Trump did not cause it.
“It breaks my heart that my friend, a president of consequence, would allow yesterday to happen. And it will be a major part of his presidency. When it comes to accountability, the president needs to understand that his actions were the problem, not the solution,” Graham said the day after the riot.
On Feb. 14, he said, “The speech on Jan. 6 was not an incitement to violence,” referring to the speech Trump gave on Jan. 6.