WASHINGTON – Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday he thought Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s speech blasting former President Donald Trump would be used against Republicans in campaign ads in 2022 when the party fights to reclaim the Senate.
McConnell, R-Ky., slammed Trump for potential criminal conduct moments after he voted for acquittal in the 57-43 vote Saturday in the Senate impeachment trial. The vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for conviction.
McConnell, in a roughly 20-minute floor speech, said Trump’s “crescendo of conspiracy theories” caused the Jan. 6 Capitol riots for which he was “practically and morally responsible.”
Graham, a staunch defender of Trump, said on Fox News Sunday that McConnell’s words would be used against Republicans in campaign advertising next year, when the party hopes to pick up enough seats to retake control of the Senate.
“He got a load off his chest, obviously, but unfortunately he put a load on the back of Republicans,” Graham said. “That speech you will see in 2022 campaigns.”
Graham’s accusation comes after the Senate shifted from Republican to Democratic control after the 2020 election. The decisive races came in two Georgia runoffs, which resulted in Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock knocking off incumbent Republicans. In a chamber now divided with 50 members caucusing with each party, Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris casts tie-breaking votes.
Graham said McConnell worked well with Trump on issues such as tax cuts and confirming federal judges. But he said other Republicans would continue to support Trump priorities.
“I think his speech is an outlier regarding how Republicans feel about all this,” Graham said.
To distance Republicans from Trump, McConnell said Saturday that Americans attacked their own government, bloodied police, hunted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and chanted about murdering Vice President Mike Pence based on lies from Trump.
“They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry he had lost an election,” McConnell said. “Former President Trump’s actions that preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
Graham said he understood McConnell wanting to speak out, but worried the speech could haunt Republicans when 2022 campaigning starts.
“I would imagine if you’re a Republican running in Arizona or Georgia or New Hampshire, where we have a chance to take back the Senate, they may be playing Sen. McConnell’s speech and asking you about it as a candidate,” Graham said. “And I imagine if you’re an incumbent Republican there are going to be people asking you if will you support Sen. McConnell in the future.”
Graham said the “biggest winner” from the impeachment trial may be Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law and a potential Senate candidate in North Carolina. Sen. Richard Burr, one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump , is retiring and she could run for his seat.
Burr voted to acquit Trump at his first trial and to convict at the second.
“The president promoted unfounded conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the integrity of a free and fair election because he did not like the results,” Burr said. “As Congress met to certify the election results, the President directed his supporters to go to the Capitol to disrupt the lawful proceedings required by the Constitution.”
Graham had said Jan. 7 that Trump needed to understand his actions before and during the riot Jan. 6 “were the problem, not the solution.” But Graham told Fox News Sunday that Trump “encouraged supporters throughout the country to fight like hell to take back the election that he felt was stolen,” using language common to political speeches.
“My dear friend Richard Burr, who I like and I’ve been friends to a long time, just made Lara Trump almost a certain nominee for the Senate seat in North Carolina to replace him if she runs,” Graham said. “And I certainly would be behind her because I think she represents the future of the Republican Party.”