Graham: Trump is 'a wrecking ball' for GOP

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE is "a wrecking ball" that's threatening to dismantle the Republican Party, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment drama will dominate this week MORE (R-S.C.) said Sunday.

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Graham, a GOP presidential contender, said Trump's recent condemnation of most immigrants as criminals — and the embrace of that message by many conservatives  — represents "a defining moment" for the party that Republicans should soundly reject.

"I'm very worried where we're headed as a party. I don't think this is the way to get the Latino vote," he said on CNN's "State of the Union" program.

"If we don't reject this way of thinking — clearly, without any ambiguity — we'll have lost our way, [and] we'll have lost the moral authority, in my view, to govern this great nation."

Trump churned countless headlines recently when he characterized most immigrants crossing the southern border as criminals and rapists. He then doubled down on those comments in the wake of this month's killing of a woman in San Francisco, allegedly by an illegal immigrant felon.

"This is merely one of thousands of similar incidents throughout the United States," Trump said. "[T]remendous infectious disease is pouring across the border."

The remarks have stirred concerns among national Republican leaders, who are trying to woo Latino voters who could prove crucial in a number of battleground states in 2016. Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has privately urged Trump to tone down the rhetoric.

Graham said the comments "are not only offensive at every level, [but] you're telling the Hispanic community who are friends, neighbors and relatives of the illegal immigrant population exactly what we think of you."

"I'm not going to be part of that," he said.

Graham has been on the front lines of the immigration reform debate for years, joining the bipartisan coalition that spearheaded a sweeping reform bill in the last Congress. That proposal was approved by the Senate, but House GOP leaders rejected it, and it was never considered in the lower chamber.

Graham on Sunday acknowledged the problems at the southern border, vowing to double the number of border patrol agents, triple the number of drones and tackle the problem of visa overstays.

But he also warned that the Republicans who embrace Trump's message are digging their own political graves.

"For us to win a national election we have to do better with Hispanics. And for us to have the moral authority as a party to govern a great nation we have to reject this demagoguery. If we don't we will lose, and we will deserve to lose," he said.

"This is a defining moment for the Republican Party."