Sen. Lindsay Graham, a longtime ally of the former president, denounced Donald Trump‘s comments calling Iran-backed political party and military group Hezbollah “very smart.” “You know, Hezbollah is very smart,” Trump told a group of supporters during a speech in Florida last week. “They’re all very smart.”
“That was a huge mistake,” Graham said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “If I were President Trump, I’d talk about being the strongest president for Israel in modern times.”
But, Graham was quick to pivot, saying that Trump walked back the remarks when he issued a follow-up statement Friday. “He issued a statement two days ago [saying], ‘I stand with Bibi, I stand with Israel.’ Yeah, it was a mistake. He’s on the right track. But you know, Biden administration’s border policies are failing, and their policies against Iran are failing.”
Host Kristen Welker pressed Graham about additional comments Trump made last week disparaging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including saying in Florida that he had “a bad experience with Israel as president.”
Trump claimed in a Wednesday speech that during the Trump administration Israel backed out of joining a U.S. drone strike that killed the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani. According to the Pentagon, Suleimani was planning multiple attacks on Americans in the region, but Trump and then-Vice President Mike Pence lied by claiming Soleimani was to blame for Benghazi and 9/11.
“I’ll never forget,” Trump said to his supporters. “I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down. That was a very terrible thing.”
In an interview on Fox News Radio also last week, Trump alleged without evidence that Netanyahu was aware of last weekend’s Hamas attack before it occurred but did not move to stop it. “Their intelligence would have been able to pick this up. Thousands of people knew about it, and they let this slip by,” the former president said. “That was not a good thing for him or for anybody.”
“Senator, as you know, [Trump] also criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Welker said to Graham. “And a lot of people saw that as a personal attack, because Netanyahu has recognized President Biden as a duly elected president. Do you think that’s appropriate at this moment?”
“No, I thought it was not helpful,” Graham said. “And President Trump has a lot to — he recognized Israel, Jerusalem as the capital, he recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel. He put in place the Abraham Accords. That’s what I would — no, I wouldn’t criticize Bibi. He put out a statement a couple of days ago, ‘I stand with Bibi.’”
Israel and the White House also condemned Trump’s remarks at the time. White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates characterized the former president’s words as “dangerous and unhinged.”
“It’s completely lost on us why any American would ever praise an Iran-backed terrorist organization as ‘smart.’ Or have any objection to the United States warning terrorists not to attack Israel,” Bates said.
Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi called Trump’s comments “shameful.” He said it was “shameful that a man like that, a former U.S. president, abets propaganda and disseminates things that wound the spirit of Israel’s fighters and its citizens,” Karhi told Channel 13 in Israel.
Welker asked Graham whether he believes Trump’s recent comments are “disqualifying, for the former president to be attacking America’s closest ally in the Middle East, when they have just undergone this attack — the largest attack against Jews since the Holocaust.”
Graham responded that Trump “was a strong president.” “Iran was afraid of him, and Russia was afraid of him,” Graham said. “We’ve lost deterrents. We need to regain it. I’m not here talking about the ’24 election. I’m talking about destroying Hamas in a way that will make Israel safer and the Palestinian people freer.”
Unlike Graham, who was fast to forgive Trump, the former president’s political opponents quickly pounce on his remarks. “You’re not going to find me throwing verbal grenades at Israeli leadership,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
“Shame on you, Donald,” former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson wrote on X, the platform previously known as Twitter. “Your constant compliments to dictators, terrorist groups, and evil-doers are beneath the office you seek and not reflective of the American character.”