Sen. Lindsay Graham speaks during a panel at the 2016 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California on May 3.
Frederic J. Brown—AFP/Getty Images
By Katie Reilly
May 6, 2016

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a former Republican candidate in the current presidential race, said Friday that he would not vote for presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump or likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Here are Graham’s complete remarks from his CNN interview announcing the decision.

DANA BASH, CNN’S CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator Graham, you’re announcing here that you won’t vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. You are a dyed in the wool Republican. Why can’t you get on board with your party’s nominee?

GRAHAM: Well it’s pretty easy to say no to Hillary because I think she’s a third term of Barack Obama. I just don’t believe Donald Trump is a reliable conservative Republican. Good luck with Paul Ryan trying to find a conservative agenda with this guy. And I don’t think he has the temperament or judgment to be commander in chief. A lot of my colleagues will vote for him enthusiastically, some will hold their nose, I just can’t go there with Donald.

BASH: But senator, Republican voters chose Donald Trump over you and 15 other Republican candidates for president. So are you the one out of step here with your party?

GRAHAM: Could be. I would have supported all 16 except for the Donald. Rand Paul and I are on opposite poles when it comes to foreign policy. I’d have supported Rand Paul because I think he’s a conservative. Ted Cruz and I have monumental differences at times. I was going to support Ted. I just don’t think Donald is a reliable conservative Republican and quite frankly, he lost me when he said my friend John McCain was a loser because he was captured as a POW. He lost me when he accused George W. Bush of lying to the American people about the Iraq War, and he thinks Putin’s a good guy, so, I just can’t go there. I respect people who can’t, and to Donald Trump, congratulations. You did a hell of a thing. You beat me and everybody else and I just really believe that the Republican Party has been conned here and this guy is not a reliable conservative Republican.

BASH: Another one of Donald Trump’s opponents who was quite critical of Trump was former Texas Governor Rick Perry. He told me yesterday, senator, that he believes in the process and he said, the process has said Donald Trump will be our nominee and I’m going to support him and help him and do what I can. Why is he wrong?

GRAHAM: I don’t think he’s wrong. I think that’s what Rick Perry feels like he should do. I’m just doing what Lindsey Graham feels like he should do. I like Rick Perry. I think Rick Perry’s been a great governor. I’ve just got a hard time supporting somebody who claims that Ted Cruz’s dad was associated with Lee Harvey Oswald and involved in the Kennedy assassination. I’ve got a hard time supporting somebody for president who spent thousands of dollars of their own money trying to find out if President Obama was born in Kenya versus Hawaii. I think that’s crazy. I’m just glad we’re having the convention in Cleveland, not Area 51. I think Donald Trump has gone to places where very few people have gone, and I’m not going with him.

BASH: Now, House Speaker Paul Ryan told CNN yesterday, as I know you’ve heard, that he is withholding support for Trump, but not ruling it out. Why are you flatly ruling it out and do you actually think — sort of take a step back. Do you think there’s no way that Donald Trump could change and in any way that would get your support or unify the Republican Party?

GRAHAM: Well, if he said tomorrow that he’s now convinced that Ted Cruz’s dad had nothing to do with killing President Kennedy, and that President Obama was born in Hawaii, that’d be a step in the right direction. I just believe his temperament and judgment is not sufficient to be commander in chief of the finest fighting force in the world. I think his foreign policy is gibberish.

BASH: And do you think he has any ability to prove you wrong?

GRAHAM: Yes, he could win. Maybe he wins, and I promise you this, if he becomes president of the United States, I will do everything I can to help President Trump or President Clinton. Unfortunately, this is a race to the bottom in 2016, the two most unpopular people in modern history, and I think we’ve just got a slightly faster car, and we’re going to win the race to the bottom, but when it’s over, clearly, I ran and I lost — when it’s over, I will help President Trump or President Clinton because they’re going to need all the help they can get, but I’m not going where Donald Trump is taking the party. I don’t believe that Trumpism is conservatism. I just can’t go there and I respect people who will go there. Some of my best friends will go there.

BASH: OK, so what will you do? You go into the voting booth, the first Tuesday in November, are you even going to go vote?

GRAHAM: I’ll take a strong drink — oh, I’m definitely voting. I’m all in for Tim Scott. Here’s the one thing Donald Trump has done. He’s united the party around the idea that we need to all vote to protect our Republican majorities in the house and the senate. If there was ever a time for the country to have conservative leadership in the house and the senate, it will be in 2017, because no matter who wins the president, whether it’s Clinton or Trump, we’re going to need some rational people up there putting the brakes on some of these very bad ideas.

BASH: So what box will you check for the presidency, or will you write somebody in? What do you plan to do? Obviously you’ve thought this through. There’s no none-of-the-above on the ballot.

GRAHAM: Right. I may just pass, I may just write somebody in, I don’t know, but I’m going to be enthusiastically behind the South Carolina Republican team. I’ll go all over the country helping people if they’d like to try to hold the house and the senate, but I just really do not believe that Donald Trump has the temperament and judgment to be commander in chief. I don’t think he’s a reliable Republican conservative. That’s just my opinion. I lost to him. Congratulations to Donald. I hope he and Paul can find a common agenda, but what I hear from Donald Trump is the furthest thing from Republican conservatism, domestically and on foreign policy, I’ve ever heard. So we’ll see what happens.

BASH: Dick Cheney is apparently now going to endorse Donald Trump. Does that surprise you?

GRAHAM: A little bit, but that’s great. Dick Cheney’s a great man. We see the world a lot alike when it comes to foreign policy. I can understand why people want to support the nominee of the Republican Party. I would like to be able to do that but I just can’t. And maybe I’m the outlier here, probably am. There will be Democrats who can’t support Hillary Clinton, and some of them will hold their nose and vote for her, some of them will do it enthusiastically.

BASH: Senator, one of your heroes, Teddy Roosevelt, just about 100 years ago, left the Republican Party and ran as a Bull-Moose candidate. Is that a path that you or somebody else should take now?

GRAHAM: Absolutely not.

BASH: No third party?

GRAHAM: I’m going to have my say — no way, and I would advise people not to go down that road. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to support the Republican team at every level except for president, and when this election’s over, I’m going to help the next president, whoever he or she may be, and I’m going to try to rebuild a Republican Party that can actually win the white house. Eating a taco is probably not going to fix the problems that we have with Hispanics. I think embracing Donald Trump is embracing demographic death.

Read more: Donald Trump Celebrates Cinco de Mayo With a Taco Bowl: ‘I Love Hispanics!’

BASH: Senator, one last question. What you’re describing is even more evidence of a really broken and divided Republican Party.

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

BASH: Do you think that it is repairable at this point?

GRAHAM: Yes, absolutely. Trumpism is not conservatism, and that will be obvious to many people. I hope Paul Ryan can come up with a common agenda for him and Donald Trump to unite the party. I just don’t believe his view of trade, his view of domestic policy, his foreign policy is Trumpism, not conservatism. Yes, I think the best days of the Republican Party lie ahead if we can reunite the people who vote for Trump and the people who don’t vote for Trump are still Republicans — I would have supported Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. I just can’t go where Donald Trump takes the party and the country. I’m sorry I can’t. I respect those who will go there, and to Donald Trump, you did an amazing thing, and you’ve gotten a lot of people who are frustrated with government on your side. They have every reason to be frustrated with the system, but I can’t go where Mr. Trump takes us.

Read more: Paul Ryan Says He Can’t Support Donald Trump—Yet

BASH: And as I say, thank you. Will we see you in Cleveland at the convention or not?

GRAHAM: You will not see me there. There’s no reason for me to go to the convention. I hope everybody has a good time. I think it will be one hell of a party. I’m just glad it’s in Cleveland and again, not in Area 51. I just wish the nominee of the Republican Party would come to grips with the idea that Ted Cruz’s dad had nothing to do with killing Kennedy. That’d be a good start.

BASH: Senator Graham, thank you very much for your time. Appreciate it.

GRAHAM: Thank you.


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