“He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.”
“He doesn’t represent my party. He doesn’t represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for.”
“I’d rather lose without Donald Trump than try to win with with him. I wish he would leave the party. I don’t care if he runs as an independent. If we lose the 2016 election, so be it.”
“You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.”
That was Lindsey Graham back in December. At the time, Trump was also firing off scathing attacks against Graham, then one of his rivals in the race for the GOP nomination. But it appears the South Carolina senator is suddenly softening his tone on the presumptive Republican nominee.
On Friday, Graham told CNN he spoke with Trump and they had “a good conversation.”
“I must say he reached out, number one,” Graham said. “And I was glad to talk to him.”
And Saturday, Graham reportedly urged donors at a private GOP fundraiser in Florida to unite behind the real estate mogul and former “Celebrity Apprentice” star to keep the Republican Party intact — and Hillary Clinton away from the White House.
“He did say that we need to get behind him,” Teresa Dailey, who attended the event, told CNN on Sunday.
According to Dailey, Graham told attendees that he has no plans to formally endorse Trump.
So what made him change his tone?
Graham, a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN on Friday that Trump “asked really good questions” during their conversation.
“I think he’s reconsidering a little bit about what to do in Syria,” he said. “I don’t know if Hillary Clinton — what will Hillary Clinton do different than President Obama? President Obama has no strategy to destroy ISIL.”
Saturday’s fundraiser was hosted by former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Al Hoffman, a former Republican National Committee finance chairman who also co-chaired Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid.
And McCain, who endorsed Graham’s unsuccessful 2016 campaign, said this month that he would support Trump as the Republican nominee.
“I’ve said all along that I would support the nominee of the party,” McCain told CNN. “I believe that a Hillary Clinton presidency will cause the economy to continue to stumble along and put us in the economic malaise that we’ve had for eight years.”
The Arizona senator further warned his congressional colleagues to fall in line.
“You have to draw the conclusion that there is some distance, if not a disconnect, between party leaders and members of Congress and the many voters who have selected Donald Trump to be the nominee of the party,” McCain said. “You have to listen to people that have chosen he nominee of our Republican party. I think it would be foolish to ignore them.”
But speaking to reporters at the Capitol Monday night, Graham denied telling donors to back Trump.
“I never told anybody to give money to Donald J. Trump,” Graham said. “I’ve told people if I had money to give, I’d give it to the House and Senate candidates. It is important to unite our party, our House and our Senate candidates. If you want to help Mr. Trump, God bless you.”
Dailey walked back her comments, too.
“I just want to be clear,” Dailey said in a follow-up interview with CNN on Monday. “[Graham] never said, ‘get behind Donald Trump,’ exactly. What he said was, we have to get behind the party and support the party and do what we need to do to raise the funds necessary to make sure that Donald J. Trump is elected the next president of the United States.”