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Sen. Lindsey Graham told "Axios on HBO" that Donald Trump has a "dark side" but he tries to "harness the magic" because he succeeded where Republican candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney failed.

Why it matters: The South Carolina Republican gyrates between support and criticism of the former president, even after Trump harshly criticized McCain — Graham's longtime friend — and helped spark the Capitol insurrection.

  • "What I'm tryin' to do is just harness the magic," Graham told Axios' Jonathan Swan. "To me, Donald Trump is sort of a cross between Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan and P.T. Barnum."
  • "He could make the Republican Party something that nobody else I know can make it. He can make it bigger. He can make it stronger. He can make it more diverse. And he also could destroy it," Graham said.

The big picture: Graham won reelection in November in one of the most expensive political races in American history. That helps explain his embrace of Trump, wildly popular with the Republican base, but also confounds those who wonder why he sticks with him.

  • In 2016, when they were competing for the GOP presidential nomination, Graham questioned Trump's mental fitness.
  • After Trump beat Hillary Rodham Clinton, Graham embraced the new president, despite him criticizing his former sidekick McCain for becoming a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
  • The day after the Capitol siege, Graham blamed Trump for fueling the attack and declared, "enough is enough."
  • Now, Graham says he is reengaging purposefully.

What they're saying: "Donald Trump was my friend before the riot. And I'm trying to keep a relationship with him after the riot. I still consider him a friend. What happened was a dark day in American history, and we're going to move forward."

  • "I want us to continue the policies that I think will make America strong. I believe the best way for the Republican Party to do that is with Trump, not without Trump."
  • "Mitt Romney didn't do it. John McCain didn't do it. There's something about Trump. There's a dark side and there's some magic there."

Flashback: When Swan noted Trump is not showing remorse for his election challenge and still arguing he won in a landslide, Graham invoked McCain.

  • "I tell (Trump) every day that he wants to listen that I think the main reason he probably lost in Arizona is beatin' on the dead guy called John McCain," the senator said.

Go deeper

18 mins ago - Health

CDC: Vaccinated people should get tested after exposure even if they show no symptoms

A person gets a COVID-19 test outside The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised its COVID-19 testing guidance for fully vaccinated people, recommending tests after exposure even if they don't show any symptoms.

Flashback: The agency previously said that fully vaccinated people did not need tests after coming into contact with an infected person unless they experienced symptoms.

Ubisoft workers demand company accountability in open letter

Photo: Frederic Brown / Getty Images

Close to 500 current and former employees of “Assassin’s Creed” publisher Ubisoft are standing in solidarity with protesting game developers at Activision Blizzard with a letter that criticizes their company's handling of sexual misconduct.

Why it matters: Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard workers are framing the actions as part of a bigger movement meant to have lasting change in the industry and its culture.

Heat dome roasts Northwest, Central states as "derecho" threat looms in Midwest

Weather map showing a sprawling heat dome centered over Kansas on July 30, 2021. (WeatherBell.com)

The latest in a series of relentless heat waves is bringing dangerously hot temperatures to a the Central U.S. on Wednesday, and will contribute to a severe thunderstorm outbreak across the Upper Midwest. The heat will expand in scope toward the end of the week.

The big picture: Heat watches, warnings and advisories are in effect across 19 states, from Portland, Oregon east to Minneapolis, and running all the way south to New Orleans. Temperatures of between 10°F and 15°F above average in these areas along with high humidity poses a public health threat.