Lindsey Graham said he’s all in for Ted Cruz in the Republican presidential primary, even if he’s not so happy about it.
Sen. Graham (R-S.C.) threw his support behind Cruz on Thursday, calling him the best choice for Republicans who want to avoid nominating Donald Trump in July.
“The bottom line is that I believe Donald Trump would be a disaster for the party,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I don’t think he’s a Republican. I don’t think he’s a reliable conservative. I think his campaign’s been based on xenophobia, race baiting and religious bigotry. I think the damage he would do the party would be enormous, and I don’t think he’s qualified to be commander in chief.”
Graham, who supported Jeb Bush’s now-defunct campaign, said he is backing Cruz because Trump’s other rival — Ohio Gov. John Kasich — does not have a path to the nomination.
“I prefer John Kasich; Cruz is not my first pick by any choice,” Graham said. “But I don’t see how John Kasich can mount the opposition that Ted Cruz can to stop Donald Trump from getting 1,237 [the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination].”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) last week became Cruz’s first Senate endorsement, a sign of the Texas senator’s persistent unpopularity among his colleagues.
Former GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Wednesday called Cruz “the only true conservative left in the race,” a sign he could be leaning toward endorsing Cruz.
But it is unclear whether Graham’s announcement will bring more establishment GOP lawmakers to Cruz’s side.
Graham, who withdrew from the presidential primary in December, has been consistently critical of Cruz and made it clear in January he wasn’t thrilled about the idea of having to choose between Cruz and Trump.
“If you nominate Trump and Cruz I think you get the same outcome,” Graham told reporters Jan. 21. “Whether it’s death by being shot or poisoning, does it really matter?”
Cruz will speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference on Monday in Washington, D.C. According to CNN, Graham will host a fundraiser for Cruz that day on the sidelines of the event.
“On the positive side with Ted, I do believe he’s a strong friend of Israel,” he said.
Graham has a history of negative comments about Cruz. “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you,” he joked Feb. 26.
The same day, he suggested Cruz and Trump were both liars. “I was asked the hardest question in my political life: ‘Do you agree with Donald Trump that Ted Cruz is the biggest liar in politics?’” he said. “Too close to call.”
Graham acknowledged his about-face. “This an odd moment, I’ll be first to say,” he told reporters.
“Do I think that Ted Cruz is the most electable person? No, I think John Kasich is more electable, but I think he’s a more reliable Republican conservative than Donald Trump and I think him carrying our party banner will be a lot less costly to us,” Graham said.
“We started out trying to nominate somebody to run in 2016; now I find myself having to fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. I think if we nominate Donald Trump, then we put at risk the heart and soul of conservatism.”