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The senator from South Carolina is not really registering in the polls, but he says he's talking about important issues, such as the fight against ISIS. Sen. Lindsey Graham believes the U.S. needs to put 10,000 ground troops into that fight.
Here & Now host Eric Westervelt spoke with the Republican presidential candidate during his campaign stop in New Hampshire. Graham shared his strategy for dealing with ISIS, abortion and answers the question on whether he would take a post in the office of Donald Trump should Trump win the presidency.
Interview Highlights: Lindsey Graham
With Donald Trump leading polls, how worried are you about the Republican Party?
"I think if Mr. Trump becomes our nominee we’ll get creamed."
“I think if Mr. Trump becomes our nominee we’ll get creamed, because he’s creating problems in two areas that are fatal to the Republican Party. We’ve gone from 44 percent of the Hispanic vote to 27 percent. I think what Mr. Trump is saying about illegal immigration is throwing gasoline on a fire with Hispanics, and I think the way he approaches problem solving and his tone and his brashness is sort of going to drive young people away.”
What do you think about the fear and anxiety in the U.S. that Trump taps into?
“There is fear, and rational fear, of radical Islam on the rise. I’ve got a plan to protect the homeland by partnering with the people in the region. The good news for all of us is I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan 36 times now in the last decade. Most people in the faith are not buying what ISIL is selling. What Mr. Trump said a couple of days ago makes it almost impossible to partner with people in the region like the king of Jordan, the president of Egypt. The way to win the war is to partner with people in the faith who want to destroy the ideology as much as you do.”
What do you say to Americans who are wary about getting into another war in the Middle East?
"We’ve got two choices: fight ISIL over there or they’re coming here."
“I would tell the American people that we’ve got two choices: fight ISIL over there or they’re coming here. There’s another 9/11 in the making – it’s being planned in Raqqa, Syria, by ISIL leadership. What I think we need in Iraq is to go from 3,500 to 10,000 to accelerate the training in additional capacity to the Iraqi security forces to destroy ISIL within side of Iraq. There are no good choices left in Syria. Three years ago, Assad was on the ropes, the Free Syrian Army was intact, we had a chance to really get ahead of this. But the good news for us is Arab countries and Turkey are threatened by ISIL as much as we are, if not more. I’m suggesting we use Arab armies with Turkey to form a regional alliance – 90 percent them, 10 percent us – going on the ground and destroy the caliphate. To disconnect from the Mideast is a disaster. There is no substitute for destroying the caliphate, taking the land back. And at the end of the day, if you don’t destroy the caliphate, take Raqqa away from ISIL, we’re going to get attacked here.”
Critics say you’re doubling down on a failed ground invasion occupation policy
“I would say to the critics that you’ve been wrong about everything. That people wanted to leave Iraq completely, like President Obama made a huge mistake - if they had listened to the military and left 10,000 people behind in Iraq as a residual force, there’d be no ISIL.”
Do you worry that Republicans are boxing themselves in on issues like abortion control and immigration?
“I think the most pro-life group in America is the Hispanic community. I think the people that support traditional marriage the most are African-Americans. Social conservatism is not our problem. I’ve been a prosecutor for a lot of my adult life, I have an exception for rape and incest. Ted Cruz and a few others in our party have no exceptions for rape or incest. I think that will be a hard sell. Ted Cruz denies that climate change is real, he attacks the science. I accept the science, I just want a solution that’s more business friendly. Young people are not wildly liberal. They’re in the middle of the road. They understand economic prosperity is not happening and I think they’d be more open to conservatism. But when they look at the nominee of the party, if it’s some really harsh person who’s looking to shut down the government, that would require a raped woman to take care of the child of a rapist, we’re going to have a hard time selling our agenda to young people when they’re open minded to something new.”
Some are speculating that you are really running for Secretary of Defense
"If I don’t do well in New Hampshire, I’ll have to re-evaluate my campaign.”
“I’m running to be president of the United States. I think my campaign has driven the national security agenda in a more traditional fashion, that Rand Paul’s isolationism is being rejected in mass by the party, that Donald Trump has strong rhetoric but bad ideas, and you see more and more candidates talking about a regional army with U.S. help – Western forces to go in to destroy the caliphate in Syria, you see more people talking about adding boots on the ground in Iraq to stiffen the Iraqi security forces – in that regard, I am very pleased with my campaign driving the narrative to find a solution to destroying ISIL without a hundred thousand American ground forces. I think I’m the best qualified to be commander-in-chief. Sen. McCain endorsed me in New Hampshire. If I don’t do well in New Hampshire, I’ll have to re-evaluate my campaign.”
Would you ever take a post in a Donald J. Trump administration?
“You know, I worry about a lot of things – being asked is probably on the bottom of my list of things to worry about. You know, it’s not just about me, it’s about our country. If he wins the nomination and becomes president of the United States, I will do whatever I can to help President Trump. And, you know, my dilemma will be that I’ll be in the NBA as a starting guard for the LA Lakers and I won’t have a lot of time. But other than that, I’ll be glad to help.”
This segment aired on December 14, 2015.
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