Sen. Lindsey Graham says the GOP can't move forward without Trump

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that the Republican Party cannot continue without former President Donald Trump.

“I would just say to my Republican colleagues: 'Can we move forward without President Trump?' The answer is no,” Graham said in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity.

Graham, who became a close ally of Trump during his presidency, made the remark ahead of an expected vote to oust Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., as chair of the House Republican Conference next week because of her efforts to publicly denounce Trump's lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

“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 told Hannity.

People are attracted to the “Trump Republican Party,” Graham said, because of economic populism and the “America first” agenda.

“If you don't get that as a Republican, you're making the biggest mistake in the history of the Republican Party,” he said. “The reason our party is growing with minorities and with working men and women is because President Trump appears to be on the side of people working really hard, appears to be on the side of opportunity not dependency, because he is.”

Graham was a fierce defender of Trump throughout his four years in office, though that came after the South Carolina Republican voiced warnings about the businessman-turned-politician during the 2016 presidential campaign. Graham also ran for the GOP nomination that year, during which time he claimed a Trump presidency would lead to another 9/11 attack.

After the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Graham said on the Senate floor that Biden's election was legitimate and criticized Trump for his efforts to cast doubt on the outcome.

"Trump and I, we've had a hell of a journey," Graham said. "I hate it to end this way. Oh my God, I hate it. From my point of view he's been been a consequential president. But today, first thing you'll see. All I can say, is count me out, enough is enough."

In order for Cheney to be removed as the third-ranking Republican in the House, a motion would have to be raised before the conference, which will then have to vote. That could happen as early as May 12, when the House is back in session and Republicans are likely to hold their next conference meeting.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who has vigorously defended Trump and in recent days promoted his baseless claims of election fraud, has emerged as a possible front-runner to replace Cheney. Both Trump and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise publicly backed Stefanik on Wednesday, while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was heard telling "Fox and Friends" host Steve Doocy off-air ahead of a live interview Tuesday that he has "lost confidence" in Cheney.

"I've had it with her. You know, I've lost confidence," McCarthy said in the recording, which was reported by Axios and has not been obtained by NBC News. "Well, someone just has to bring a motion, but I assume that will probably take place.”

Cheney will not step down from her leadership role, her spokesman said Wednesday.

In a Washington Post op-ed article published Wednesday afternoon, Cheney argued: "While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country."

Cheney voted in January to impeach Trump over his role in inciting the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. She has since come under fire for that vote and her efforts to speak out against the former president.