WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump isn't just a threat to the Republican Party, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Thursday, he's also endangering the stability of U.S. allies in the Middle East, who are "dumbfounded" by the real estate mogul's pronouncements.
Graham recently returned from a tour of nations around the Middle East aimed at coming up with a broad international plan to quiet the region's growing unrest.
But besides all worries about Iran, ISIS, refugees and faltering economies, a persistent concern he heard about was Trump, who has declared that all Muslims should be banned, at least temporarily, from entering the U.S.
Asked to describe foreign leaders' reactions, Graham said they were like "Boy, who is this guy? Like, what’s going on?" he said. "[They 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."
The idea of banning Muslims alone was especially damaging to leaders like Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who are both looking for ways to counter rising extremism in the region and have professed a desire for reform, Graham said. (Sisi, a former general, is a controversial example to cite -- activists and scholars say his oppressive rule in Egypt may actually be radicalizing the country's youth, and his actions in neighboring Libya have helped prolong the security vacuum there that ISIS has exploited.)
"I cannot tell you how that one statement was unnerving," he said. "Because if you’re riding this tiger like el-Sisi and King Abdullah, and you’re trying to have a relationship with the United States and Saudia Arabia, that was a pretty hard blow to absorb."
Other statements by Trump have also sparked alarm, Graham said, such as his suggestion that the United States team up with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Syria.
"Suggesting that maybe working with Putin is a good thing in Syria — most of them believe it’s not. Because when you’re working with Putin you’re working with Iran," he said.
Graham, who endorsed Jeb Bush and then Ted Cruz after he dropped his own bid for the White House earlier in the primaries, said he spent a lot of time trying to reassure the officials he met.
"I’m telling them that in my view, his policy positions don’t represent the Republican Party, they represent him," he said. "We don’t want to ban all Muslims."
"They’re very much bewildered by the election process, like I am," Graham said. "I tried to reassure them. I said, look at the response of the Republican Party to to some of these comments. It’s been wide. I’ve been proud of it, from Ted Cruz to Jeb Bush to Lindsey Graham, that we're not going to ban all Muslims."
"I told them, just hang in there," he added. "This is the silly season. It will pass."
Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist