Sen. Lindsey Graham told Middle East leaders not to worry about a potential Donald Trump presidency, he told reporters Wednesday.
“I told them, ‘Just hang in there. This is the silly season,'” the South Carolina Republican said. “It will pass.”
Trump is the Republican presidential front-runner, although his loss on Tuesday to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the Wisconsin primary has complicated his march to the nomination.
Graham, a former presidential candidate, has been sharply critical of Trump, and said Mideast leaders raised concerns about him.
“Everybody asked me about Trump in terms of policy changes,” Graham told reporters Thursday, detailing a recent congressional delegation trip to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.
“I said, ‘He’s an outlier. Don’t look at him,'” Graham said.
Top concerns involved Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, and his suggestion that the United States allow Russian President Vladimir Putin a bigger role in combating the Islamic State terror group, or ISIS, in war-weary Syria. Graham said most of the leaders opposed working with Putin, due to Russia’s ties with Iran.
Graham said the leaders were “just dumbfounded that somebody running for president of the United States would suggest that the United States ban everybody in their faith. It’s not helping them help us.”
“Nobody took the point that you can’t rely on America,” Graham later added, “But they’re very much bewildered by the election process, like I am.”
Graham also suggested the next Congress could be more willing to engage and invest in the Middle East.
“I think there will be a new Congress, there will be an appetite to reset, that there will be more push back against the Russians and the Iranians, that the nuclear deal will be looked at anew … and that things are going to get better,” Graham said. “I think most Americans and Europeans, after [terrorist attacks in] Brussels and Paris, feel like, if they don’t invest over there, they’re coming here.”
Trump’s comments about foreign policy and America’s role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has also drawn the ire of top leaders. He recently said the alliance, formed as a Cold War bulwark, was “obsolete .”
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, issued a statement Wednesday following his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Though he did not refer to Trump by name, he stressed the alliance’s role in maintaining U.S. security.
“Strong allies are now, and always have been, vital to America’s national security. It was France that helped us win our revolution and our independence. It was British and Canadian soldiers that landed with us on the beaches of Normandy,” McCain said.”And dozens of countries are fighting with us now against the global terrorist threat. We forget this at our own peril.”