Republican presidential candidate and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he would have stood up to the questioner who told fellow Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American” on Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC.
Graham was asked, “What would you have done?”
He answered, “Stand up to the guy. I had this happen to me in Iowa where a guy used the n-word and was very derogatory toward President Obama and Muslims, and I said, I’m not seeking your vote, I don’t want your vote. President Obama, I don’t question his faith, I don’t question his patriotism, I don’t question his origin of birth. And when these things happen, you’re not responsible for what the guy says, you are responsible for how you respond. So, it’s very inappropriate, I think, to let that go. you need to look the guy in the eye and say, ‘Listen, I don’t agree with you, I don’t appreciate what you said, this is not the way I’m going to campaign, this is not who I am,’ and just go right at him and say, ‘You know I don’t buy this idea about President Obama being a Muslim. I believe that he is a man of his own faith, and I think he’s a good man, he and his wife have represented our country well, in terms of being a family role model,’ and just push back.”
Host Andrea Mitchell then stated, “Senator, last night the Trump campaign said that he was really referring to the latter part, not the part about President Obama –”
Graham cut in, “Oh, come on, give me a break. You had a chance here to show who you were. You know, this happens to all of us. It happened to John McCain. You know, you’ve got to push back. We’re trying to be the leader of a nation here. And you’ve got people like this in every country, in every party, and it’s a chance for you to display your character, and we’re looking for a leader, who will push back against this kind of hateful stuff, on both sides of the aisle.”
Graham added, “he should come on television and say, ‘I made a mistake.’ We all make mistakes. He’s new to this business. You know, I used to be really afraid of confronting people like this because oh, my goodness, the loudest person in the room, you know, you don’t know what to do. Just let it go, don’t be afraid of losing a vote. Make sure you let people in that audience know why you’re running and what you believe and not try to get everybody’s vote. If I were Donald Trump, I would go on national television and say ‘I handled this poorly, if I had it all over to do again, I would have challenged his question, and challenged his construct.’ That would help Mr. Trump. It would help all of us. It would be the right thing to do. That would be my advice. It’s okay to apologize, it’s okay to make a mistake. What’s not okay is to play like it never happened.
Graham was then asked if Trump was afraid of losing “supporters who may agree with the questioner”. He responded, “Yeah, I think what — you know, and we all have to deal with this. You have to deal with the angry person, the person who’s frustrated, the person who is — says hateful things. It happens to me all the time. It happens to all of us. I am no longer worried about losing a vote. When something like this happens, I try to use it as a teaching moment, to teach people about who I am and what I believe, and really to reset the table there. I think President Obama’s been a weak opponent of evil, a poor champion of freedom. I think he undersells the threats to this country, oversells our successes, but I don’t question his faith, i don’t question his patriotism, i don’t question where he’s born, and this is a time for people in the political arena to push back on what i think is a growing belief in america you can say anything about anybody, and it doesn’t matter. it does matter.”
Graham also stated, “this is a defining moment for all of us here. Now, listen, there are people in my party who are frustrated. I don’t like President Obama’s policies, I think he’s — economically, we’re not going in the right direction, and the world is falling apart on his watch. But I don’t question his patriotism. At the end of the day, this is a defining moment for Mr. Trump. The man in that audience has to be put in his place by the person who’s answering the question. If you have any doubt about President Obama’s — where he was born, and apparently Mr. Trump does, get that behind you. I don’t think it is going to be good for the Republican Party to elect somebody as their nominee — to make somebody the nominee who doubts that President Obama was born in Hawaii. Mr. Trump in many ways is responsible for this, by creating this idea that maybe Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, saying that most illegal immigrants are rapists and drug dealers, he’s playing into this hateful narrative. And it’s now time for him to set it right.”
He clarified, “it’s not Donald Trump I’m taking on, it’s the guy, what the guy said, and I’m asking Mr. Trump for his own reputation, for his own — history will judge us all. You know, whether I win this primary or not, I’m going to be Lindsey Graham. And Lindsey Graham is not going to tolerate that kind of behavior. Lindsey Graham’s beef with President Obama is about his policies. I am not going to be a leader in the Republican Party that legitimizes this hateful stuff toward our president, about him being a Muslim, not being — about him not being a real American. He’s a liberal. I think he loves this country. I just think he’s doing a lot of damage to it. So, at the end of the day, Mr. Trump has an opportunity here, that would be good for him, and good for the country to step forward, and say, ‘I mishandled this situation. If I had it all over to do again, I would challenge the man.'”
Graham concluded, “Here’s the good news. most of us on the Republican side don’t tolerate this. Mr. Trump has a chance to learn from this, and set it right, and I hope he’ll take that opportunity.”
Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett