BOULDER, Colo.– Lindsey Graham may register as little morethan a blip in the presidential polls, but he doesn’t soundlike a man — or candidate — dejected.

On Tuesday night before the third Republican presidentialdebate, the South Carolina senator participated inan interview with Dana Bash as part of CNN’s“Politics on Tap” series, where heelicited a bundle of laughsfrom an audience of college Republicans and journalists at a localbar. (RELATED: Graham Plays‘F**k, Marry, Kill’ WithPalin, Fiorina, Clinton)

As he left the event, he spoke with The Daily Caller about thestate of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, the Middle East andwhy he is still in the race:

The Daily Caller (TheDC): Let’s start with theobvious question everyone is dying to know: Ifyou’re the nominee, would you consider Donald Trump for yourVP?

Graham: No.

TheDC: More seriously, what’s your rationalfor staying in the race when you’re at two percent in one recent poll in your homestate of South Carolina?

Graham: For one, that poll’s a bunch of garbage, theYouGov deal. The bottom line is, people in South Carolina are notgoing to look at me as a viable candidate until I show viabilityoutside of South Carolina. If I do well in New Hampshire we willabsolutely wipe them out in South Carolina. Trust me on that.We’ve got to do well outside of South Carolina.

TheDC: How do you assess the state of the RepublicanParty when people like Paul Ryan are considered by segments of thebase to not be true conservatives?

Graham: We’ve got this dynamic going on in both parties,right? You know, Bernie’s dragging the [Democratic] Party tothe left. There’s some people on our side — you know,conservatism. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t meet the test for someof these folks. So I don’t equate what they’re doingwith the conservatism. At the end of the day Paul Ryan is aconservative by any rational definition. Some of the people who areobjecting to Paul Ryan have lost their way in terms of whatconservatism’s all about. Conservatism is an approach togovernment that will allow the country to move forward in alimited-government fashion but that means there’s got to bethe ability to run the government. So Paul Ryan is a trueconservative in the best sense of the word and a lot of his criticshave lost their way in terms of what conservatism’s allabout.

TheDC: People look at the Middle East and seewhat’s going on in Iraq and Libya, even Afghanistan, andwonder whether the idea of implanting democracy abroad is possiblein the Middle East. Someone like Ted Cruz might say that maybedemocracy is not right for the Middle East at this point inhistory. 

Graham: All that I can say is that representative government isgood. That choosing your own leaders is good. Being able to go tocourt where you’re judged based on what you’re accusedof, not your tribe or your religious background, is good. See,I’ve been to the Mid-East 35 times, Iraq and Afghanistan. Iknow that most young people over there want many of the same thingswe want here. So I don’t have this arrogant view thatdemocracy’s somehow reserved just for us. So here’swhat I believe. I believe that most people are not buying whatISIL’s selling. That very few mothers and fathers want toturn their daughters over to ISIL. This is an outlier in thereligion. And Iraq was in a good spot and Senator Cruzdoesn’t understand that, he hasn’t spent any timestudying the issue. The [Iraq] surge did work.

TheDC: Is it possible that it would have been betterfor America, at least in the short term, if Gaddafi was still inpower in Libya? 

Graham: Absolutely not. For anybody wanting to be President ofthe United States to say, “I yearn for a dictator to comeback,” you’ve lost your way. We’re the voice offreedom. Gaddafi. Would you want to live in Gaddafi’s Libya?I wouldn’t. I will never ask a young person to live in adictatorship for my convenience. So we’re Americans. It isour job to lead the free world. At the end of the day I’m apractical kind of guy, but when Trump and Cruz and these other guystalk about “just leave the world alone. God, I wish thedictators were back.” You go over to the Mid-East and see ifyou’d want to live there.

TheDC: If Donald Trump is the nominee againstHillary Clinton, could you vote for Donald Trump forpresident?

Graham: I’m going to vote for the Republican nominee. Ifit’s Donald Trump, I will support the nominee but he’llget creamed.

This interview has been slightly edited for brevity andclarity. 

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