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Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it'

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin Graham'Real Housewives of the GOP' — Wannabe reality show narcissists commandeer the party Graham: 'I could not disagree more' with Trump support of troop withdrawal Wall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study MORE (R-S.C.) said in an interview that aired Sunday that he thinks former President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse votes to condemn Chinese government over Hong Kong Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at age 93 White House readies for Chauvin verdict MORE can make the GOP “bigger” and “stronger,” or he “could destroy it.”

Graham, who has been considered an ally and defender of Trump since his election, told “Axios on HBO” that Trump encompasses a “bigger-than-life deal,” describing the former president as “sort of a cross between Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan and P.T. Barnum.”

“He could make the Republican Party something that nobody else I know could make it,” the Republican senator said. “He could make it bigger. He could make it stronger. He could make it more diverse. And he also could destroy it.”

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The South Carolina senator described the former president as having both a “dark side” and “some magic there.”

“What I’m trying to do is just harness the magic,” Graham said, noting that past Republican presidential nominees John McCainJohn Sidney McCain'Real Housewives of the GOP' — Wannabe reality show narcissists commandeer the party George W. Bush: 'It's a problem that Americans are so polarized' they can't imagine him being friends with Michelle Obama Congress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks MORE and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyAdvocacy groups pushing Biden to cancel student debt for disabled 15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults now eligible for COVID vaccines MORE weren’t successful in their runs like Trump was.

“I want us to continue the policies that I think will make America strong,” Graham told Axios’s Jonathan Swan. “I believe the best way for the Republican Party to do that is with Trump, not without Trump."

Graham had publicly challenged Trump’s mental fitness to handle the presidency ahead of the 2016 election. But after Trump defeated Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Cuba readies for life without Castro Chelsea Clinton: Pics of Trump getting vaccinated would help him 'claim credit' MORE, Graham welcomed the former president.

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Graham stood by Trump throughout most of his presidency, although he condemned Trump for his role in the Capitol riot in January, saying in a floor speech hours later that “enough is enough.” 

The senator's comments come as the Republican Party is determining how much of a role the former president will play in the GOP after his one-term presidency. 

In his first major address since leaving office, Trump spoke to supporters at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week in an effort to solidify his leadership role in the party and tease a potential 2024 presidential run