Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was an early contender for the presidency, and also an early and forceful critic of Donald Trump. Today on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Graham expressed confusion over Trump’s Inauguration Day promise to put “America First.” He told the host,: “I don’t know what America First means.”
“To the president, if America first is a throwback to the 20’s and 30’s isolationism when it was first used as a phrase, the world would deteriorate even quicker, if it is a new way of Ronald Reagan’s peace through strength I would like to work with him. I don’t know what America first means.”
In his inaugural speech, Trump made plain his intentions for the phrase, which he had repeated during his campaign. “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” Trump said on the Capitol steps. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First. America First.”
Graham called Trump a “jackass” twice in July 2015 and continued to express his disgust over the New Yorker’s statements about fellow Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. His presidential campaign floundered and, by December 2015, he suspended the campaign. Graham then threw his support behind Jeb Bush, only to reluctantly support Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He has continued to criticize Trump. In November, Graham said that he voted for Independent candidate Ian McMullin.
Graham is next up for re-election in 2020.
Since President Trump’s inauguration, media outlets and progressive organizations have focused on the “America first” phrase and attempted to tie it to pre-World War II pacifists and isolationists. In the late 1930s, a movement featured a coalition of politicians and business leaders across the political spectrum as the America First Committee to oppose President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his support for Great Britain and France. More than 800,000 members belonged to the movement. Its leading spokesman was aviator Charles Lindbergh, who blamed Jews for calling for war. In September 1941, he told a rally, "The British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war." Lindbergh had been decorated by Adolf Hitler in 1938.
During his campaign, Trump has called for policies that he has said will revive American industry, while he has promised to renegotiate agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, to the advantage of the United States. The White House, for example, has announced its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. A statement on the White House website, said that Trump “understands how critical it is to put American workers and businesses first when it comes to trade.” Jobs and prosperity, said the website, will come through “rejecting and reworking failed trade deals.”
“This strategy starts by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and making certain that any new trade deals are in the interests of American workers,” the statement reads. As for NAFTA, the website read, “If our partners refuse a renegotiation that gives American workers a fair deal, then the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA.”
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