WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham has some advice, and a warning, for Donald Trump: Focus on the future and making peoples’ lives better, and drop the constant 2020 election claims. But the former president doesn’t appear to be listening.
“Donald Trump is the most consequential Republican in the Republican Party today. He has a great chance of being president again in 2024. He’ll start comparing what he did as president versus what’s going on now, and how to fix the mess we’re in,” Graham, R-South Carolina, told ABC News on Sunday. “If he looks backward, I think he’s hurting his chances.”
If Trump is looking anywhere but the political rearview mirror, he is running quite the misdirection strategy.
In nearly 10 statements released since ABC’s “This Week” program aired Graham’s comments, Trump has made clear he has no intention of taking his sometimes golfing partner’s advice.
Among the messages that have replaced his banned Twitter account are declarations pushing his latest conspiracy theory — this one featuring new claims that Hillary Clinton’s campaign spied on his 2016 campaign and early presidency, which already has been denied in court.
“I was proven right about the spying, and I will be proven right about 2020!” Trump wrote in a Monday statement that had all the syntax and tone of a presidential decree-by-tweet that helped define his term.
In fact, he spent much of his Valentine’s Day this year focused on the 2020 election.
“Is the Unselect Committee still talking about January 6 when a bigger scandal than Watergate has just been unearthed?” Trump said in another Monday statement, referring to the House Jan. 6 investigative committee that some of his fellow Republicans declined to be a part of, as well as the new spying claims.
Trump also had some advice of his own for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who reportedly is working to convince Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to run against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.
“MAGA will never accept RINO Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona running for the U.S. Senate—So save your time, money, and energy, Mitch!” Trump said, attempting to pressure a man he refers to in statements and at political rallies as “The Old Crow.”
Those statements were blasted out by his post-presidency office the day after Graham’s advice also featured a warning that is broader than the former president’s focus on his own reputation, ego and perhaps political future.
Graham, when pressed by “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos, reiterated his stance that Trump, by focusing so intensely on his false “rigged” 2020 election claims and trying to whitewash the circumstances before and during the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021, is threatening to “hurt his cause” for a potential 2024 run.
Then came the warning. “I do believe that if he talked about what he’s capable of doing and remind people what he did in the past, he has a chance to come back,” Graham said. “If he continues to talk about the 2020 election, I think it hurts his cause, and quite frankly, hurts the Republican Party.”
But Trump made clear just a few hours later in a Sunday afternoon statement he is focused less on the larger GOP and mostly on himself.
“What Hillary Clinton and the Radical Left Democrats did with respect to spying on a President of the United States, even while in office, is a far bigger crime than Watergate,” he said in a statement.
“It will be interesting to see how it was covered by the media and what Mitch McConnell and the RINOs will be doing about it,” the former president wrote, suggesting that he wants Senate Republicans, should they retake the majority, to investigate his latest claims. “This is an insult to the Republican Party, but a far greater insult to our Nation.”
‘No one should be afraid’
Trump frequently tells his supporters at political rallies that Democrats and others are not after him, but them. He has used the tactic to further inflame the country’s political divisions, and he used that mid-afternoon statement to try doing the same to Senate Republicans.
McConnell shows few signs he is listening closely to Trump’s daily demands. Some influential Senate Republicans don’t appear to be, either.
“No one should be afraid of President Trump, period,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told the New York Times in a Sunday article about her efforts to convince Trump critics within the party to run for Senate.
But rather than heed Graham’s advice about not damaging the GOP brand ahead of the 2022 and 2024 elections, Trump went right after Collins, using a statement to label her “absolutely atrocious, and has been for a long time.”
He noted that he “won Maine 2, by a lot,” referring to the state’s 2nd Congressional District, delivering him one of the state’s four Electoral College votes. Trump also claimed Collins “didn’t help the fisherman, as their rights were taken from them from the federal government, and the lumberjacks,” referring to several administrative directions he pushed as president that affected both industries. (Collins supported both, but lacked the power as a senator to give such orders unilaterally of another branch of government.)
“She would have had no chance to win,” Trump said of Collins’ successful 2020 reelection. “But I remained silent and positive and allowed her to have her victory. She would have lost in a landslide. Gee, aren’t I nice?”
All of that Trump-induced drama comes as President Joe Biden remains vulnerable on a slew of kitchen-table issues and the lingering pandemic, according to multiple polls. Yet Biden’s most likely 2024 general election foe is obsessed with the pre-inflation, pre-supply chain shortages, pre-omicron, pre-Ukraine crisis world.
Finally, for Democrats, some much-needed hope amid one year of their own botched messaging and legislative toe-stubbing.
Story by John T. Bennett.