Graham, a major ally and supporter of former President Donald Trump, says the vote by retiring GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina on Saturday to convict Trump in his impeachment trial will make the former president’s daughter-in-law – Lara Trump – a shoe-in to win the 2022 Republican nomination to succeed Burr.
“The biggest winner of this whole impeachment trial I think is Lara Trump,” Graham forecast on “Fox News Sunday.” “My dear friend Richard Burr, who I like and I’ve been friends to a long time, just made Lara Trump almost the certain nominee for the Senate seat in North Carolina to replace him if she runs, and I certainly would be behind her because I think she represents the future of the Republican Party.”
Fast forward 24 hours and Walker – the only major Republican so far to jump into the race – took issue with Graham’s comments.
“In the words of I believe it was John Ashcroft, Lindsey is always confident but not always right,” Walker said Monday morning on FOX Business’ “Mornings with Maria,” as he paraphrased the former U.S. attorney general and senator and governor from Missouri.
Walker said he’s not paying attention to what other potential contenders may jump into the North Carolina Senate race, which will likely be one of the most hotly contested and expensive Senate battles next year as the Republicans try to regain the majority in the chamber they just lost in the 2020 election cycle.
“We can’t control what anyone else is doing,” Walker emphasized. “This is something we’re focused on because it’s in our heart to do, service has been part of our life for nearly a quarter century and we’re going to continue to do so.”
Burr announced when he last ran for reelection in 2016 that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term in 2022. Walker, a former three-term congressman and minister, launched his Senate candidacy in early December, with his announcement first shared with Fox News.
While Walker, who chaired the conservative Republican Study Group, is the first Republican candidate to jump into the race, it’s doubtful he’ll be the only one to declare his or her candidacy. Former Gov. Pat McCrory, if he launches a Senate bid, would be a strong competitor.
So would Trump, the 38-year old wife of Trump’s son Eric. The former TV producer, who was a senior adviser of the then-president’s 2020 reelection campaign, was born and raised in North Carolina, although she and Eric Trump and their children currently live in the northern suburbs of New York City.
In November and December, Lara Trump flirted with the possibility of running for the Senate, including retweeting a poll that suggested she would be the GOP front-runner if she entered the race.
But she’s stayed quiet since the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by right-wing extremists and other Trump supporters intent on disrupting congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the presidential election.
Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesman and a North Carolina native who used to work for Mr. Burr, took issue with Graham’s prediction that Burr’s conviction vote would boost Lara Trump.
“I don’t see how Saturday’s vote affect that at all,” Heye argued. “You’ve got to do some crazy kind of algebra and cheating your math to get that.”
Heye acknowledged that if Trump runs, “she could raise a ton of money,” but he questioned if she’ll actually launch a campaign.
The House voted on Jan. 13 – a week after the attack on the Capitol – to impeach the then-president on one count of inciting the insurrection, with 10 House Republicans joining all 222 Democrats in the chamber. On Saturday, seven Republicans, including Burr, joined all 50 Democrats in the Senate in voting to convict Trump. But with 67 votes needed to convict, Trump was acquitted.
Walker took to Twitter to disagree with Burr’s vote, writing “Wrong vote, Sen. Burr. I am running to replace Richard Burr because North Carolina needs a true conservative champion as their next senator.”
And Walker said he supports efforts by the North Carolina GOP to censure Burr for his vote to convict Trump.
Walker said on FOX Business on Monday that he disagreed with a speech by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., minutes after Trump was acquitted. McConnell, who voted to acquit Trump, emphasized that there was no question that former president was “practically and morally responsible” for provoking insurrection and highlighted that Trump could still face criminal prosecution.
“I do not agree with him,” Walker said.
North Carolina’s other Republican senator, Thom Tillis, also voted to acquit Trump, but like McConnell, used his post-verdict statement to potentially invite prosecutors to indict the former president, saying Trump’s “ultimate accountability is through our criminal justice system.”
Asked about the current divide in the Republican Party between Trump loyalists and conservatives looking to move the party past the Trump era, when the then-president reshaped and ruled over the GOP, Walker said “there are divisions but there’s also opportunities to bring people together.”