WASHINGTON – When asked about the difference between former Sen. John McCain and President Donald Trump criticism of their political opponents, Sen. Lindsey Graham angrily told reporters, "I don't remember John McCain having to go through this crap every day."
Graham made the remark when CNN's Manu Raju asked him how much the Republican Party had changed in light of the "send her back" chant that Trump supporters leveled at Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at a North Carolina rally on Wednesday. Raju contrasted that with how McCain famously defended his Democratic opponent in the 2008 presidential race, then-Sen. Barack Obama, from a woman at a rally who said she did not trust Obama because he was "an Arab."
"No ma'am," McCain said at that Oct. 2008 rally before taking the microphone from the audience member. "He's a decent, family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues."
Earlier at that rally in Lakeville, Minnesota, another man told McCain, "We're scared of an Obama presidency."
"I want to be president of the United States and obviously I do not want Sen. Obama to be," McCain responded. "But I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the United States."
That response drew boos from some members of the audience.
"I was proud of John," Graham said Thursday. "My differences with President Obama were real but I never doubt that he loved the country."
The South Carolina Republican was a close friend of McCain, who died in August 2018.
Asked Graham about the difference between John McCain, who told a woman that Obama wasn't an Arab, and Trump now: "I don't remember John McCain having to go through this crap every day, all the time." pic.twitter.com/WYbccGDrdu
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 18, 2019
"President Trump would never do that," Raju said.
"He took a different tack. He's fighting back," Graham said. But he said he didn't remember "anybody treating John McCain the way they're treating Trump. I don't remember John McCain having to go through this crap every day, all the time."
"Something I have learned: If you are a Republican nominee for President – or President – you will be accused of being a racist.," Graham tweeted later on Thursday. "John Lewis compared John McCain’s campaign to being like that of George Wallace. It comes with the territory unfortunately."
Something I have learned:
If you are a Republican nominee for President – or President – you will be accused of being a racist.
John Lewis compared John McCain’s campaign to being like that of George Wallace.
It comes with the territory unfortunately.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 18, 2019
The day after McCain's 2008 rally in Minnesota, Rep. John Lewis. D-Ga., said he was "deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign" and accused them "sowing the seeds of hate and division," comparing it to the "atmosphere of hate" created by segregationist Gov. George Wallace.
Later the same night. Lewis issued a clarification, which said it was not his intention to "compare Sen. John McCain or Gov. Sarah Palin to George Wallace."
"I am glad that Sen. McCain has taken some steps to correct divisive speech at his rallies," Lewis said, apparently in light of McCain's comments the day before.
Trump has faced heavy criticism this week following tweets that told four progressive congresswomen of color to "go back" to their countries of origin and fix the problems there before "telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run."
At his rally Wednesday, Trump said Omar, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, "hate our country" and, "If they don't like it, let them leave." All four women are U.S. citizens.
When Trump went after Omar – who was born in Somalia – the crowd began to chant, "send her back. Though Trump did not object to the chanting at the time, on Thursday he told reporters, "I wasn't happy with that message."
"Let me be clear, my beef is with policy, not personality," Graham said Thursday when asked about the chants. "All of these congressmen won their elections. They're American citizens. This is their home as much as mine.
"I believe their policies will change America for the worse, and that's the debate for me."
Graham also told reporters he did not believe Trump was being racist with his comments, which he compared to the 1960s refrain of "love it or leave it" that was often leveled against protesters opposed to the Vietnam War.
"A Somali refugee embracing Trump would not have been asked to go back," Graham said. "If you're a racist you want everybody from Somalia to go back because they're black or they're Muslim."
Somalia was one of the nations in each version of Trump's controversial travel ban.
Before his death, McCain was one Trump's fiercest Republicans critics. In 2016 he told The New Yorker that Trump had "fired up the crazies."
"We have a very extreme element within our Republican Party," McCain said. "Now he galvanized them" and "really got them activated."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lindsey Graham: John McCain didn't 'go through this crap' like Trump