South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham has defended Donald Trump against charges of racism, saying that he likes people whether they are “albino” or “black as coal” – provided they like him back.
In an interview for Snapchat’s Good Luck America, Mr Graham was reminded that during the 2016 campaign, he himself labelled Mr Trump a racist – “a xenophobic, race-baiting, religious bigot,” he himself recalled.
Asked whether he considers the president a racist to this day, Mr Graham defended Mr Trump unambiguously. “He won the presidency. No, I don’t think he’s racist. Here’s what I think. You can be black as coal and if you like him, he likes you. You can be albino and if he doesn’t like you, he doesn’t like you.
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“He’s about him. If you like him, he probably likes you. But I don’t think he hates people because of the colour of their skin. I think he reacts to people as to how they react to him. I really believe that.”
The discussion on racism arrived just after Mr Graham had defended himself against accusations that his politics have changed almost beyond recognition since Mr Trump was elected, with the South Carolina senator now serving as one of the president’s most dogged loyalists despite railing against him furiously for most of the last campaign.
His rationale, as in the specific exchange about racism, seemed to be that even though he did not vote for Mr Trump, the president’s victory in the election meant he had to become a loyal ally.
“I can do one of two things. I can take my ball and go hide in the corner. Or I can represent my state. He won my state. He won my state by 14 points. I think I’d owe it to the people of South Carolina to help this president…
“He ran as a disruptor and he has been disruptive. I can understand your grandmother being upset by the behaviour Donald Trump at times, and count me in. I’ve pushed back too. Charlottesville, you name it. But the bottom line is working people believe that the change he’s brought benefits them.”
Mr Graham’s about-face since Mr Trump’s election has become a liability to his re-election campaign, which polling indicates is the most competitive he has ever faced in his heavily Republican state.
An outside campaign group called “Lindsey Must Go” has been targeting voters in the state with ads that simply stitch together clips from interviews in which Mr Graham tore into Mr Trump without restraint.
Alongside the “religious bigot” line, choice quotations see him calling Mr Trump “unfit for office” and “a jackass” as well as complaining that “my party has gone bats**t crazy”.