It’s no secret that Donald Trump laid waste to many bridges within the Republican Party on his way to the White House.
Trump’s brash nature and disregard for political etiquette were major reasons why he ultimately would become President. However, forgiving and forgetting has been more difficult for some Republicans than others.
During his campaign, Trump rarely shied away from distinguishing himself from other Republican hopefuls by attacking their resumes, motives for running, and even their character.
The list of victims affiliated with the right who were left in Trump’s massive wake is full of big names with bigger egos. The list includes, but is not limited to:
Yet none of these squabbles has persisted quite like the public feud between Donald Trump and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain. Granted, McCain was one of the earliest and most vocal critics of Donald Trump and his supporters.
However, even Donald’s most ardent supporters were left grasping at straws when attempting to justify this comment:
It is an unwritten American rule: no matter how vitriolic and bush league a personal rivalry ultimately becomes, always respect the troops. Call it cliché, but don’t call it untrue.
So when Donald Trump used the specifics of John McCain’s service as an insult to his competence as a soldier, questioning the reverence we have for McCain’s POW status in the process, he received much-warranted backlash from both sides of the aisle.
This seems to be the closest Trump has come to apologizing for that remark, which was taken as an affront to all soldiers who have been captured in the process of their service:
“You know frankly, I like John McCain, and John McCain is a hero. Also, heroes are people that are, you know, whether they get caught or don’t get caught — they’re all heroes as far as I’m concerned. And that’s the way it should be.”
While not technically an apology, he referred to McCain as a ‘hero,' an about-face that few of Trump’s other political targets could have hoped to receive. Further, Trump formally endorsed McCain for re-election in August of 2016:
"I hold in the highest esteem Sen. John McCain for his service to our country in uniform and in public office," Trump said. "And I fully support and endorse his re-election."
That should have marked the end of the ad-hominem exchanges between the men. After all, upon realizing that Trump would be the nominee, and eventually that he had won the presidential election, other former critics increasingly warmed up to the new President.
Paul Ryan reached the conclusion pre-election that, as a conservative, railing against Trump would ultimately constitute pining for Hillary Clinton, and that not voting for Donald essentially meant voting for his opponent.
Speaker of the House Ryan explained that he would support Donald Trump because it meant the likely appointment of a conservative-minded Supreme Court justice and the advancement of an agenda that he had, prior to the nomination, discussed with Trump.
However, Paul Ryan would prove one of the easier converts for Trump to win back as it became increasingly clear he would be the Republican nominee. Ryan has always been a party over personal gain politician, and falling in line behind the nominee was likely always going to be his move.
Lindsey Graham eventually came around as well, giving Donald his new phone number as a form of modern-age olive branch between the two.
While Jeb Bush has continued to lament President Trump’s tweeting, he has stopped short of fueling the runaway train that the Russia conspiracy has become, saying he did not think that Trump had committed obstruction of justice.
Likewise, Carly Fiorina has called Trump’s tweeting ‘destructive,' but has not continued an anti-Trump campaign beyond such criticism, a fair sentiment that many conservatives share.
Rand Paul has continued to be a thorn in Trump’s side, proposing legislation to block the recently agreed to arms deal between America and Saudi Arabia, but that is what Rand Paul does. The avowed libertarian has made a political career out of sticking to his isolationist guns, so his proposal to block this deal is less a sign of his ire against Trump than par for the course.
All of this is meant to illustrate the reality that one Republican has stood head and shoulders above fellow conservative Trump critics, both in terms of persistence and the extremity of his criticism: Arizona governor John McCain.
The man charged with watching over a state that arguably stands to gain most from Trump’s proposed border wall inexplicably continues to be one of his most vocal critics. This timeline tracks the prolonged war of words between McCain and Trump.
Consider the extent to which McCain has gone to paint Donald Trump as a man that single-handedly puts the fate of the Western world into question:
“The next panel asks us to consider whether the West will survive. In recent years, this question would invite accusations of hyperbole and alarmism. Not this year. If ever there were a time to treat this question with a deadly seriousness, it is now,” McCain asserted at the 2017 Munich Security Conference.
Then, this week, McCain made a statement that most conservatives had to read twice, if not three times, to believe. In an interview with the Guardian, McCain gave a response that has, by now, been widely circulated because of its divisiveness:
Asked if America’s standing on the global stage was better under President Obama than President Trump, McCain responded:
"As far as American leadership is concerned, yes.”
It is a comment that reeks of personal animosity toward Trump for several reasons. For one, as has been reported, McCain characterized Obama’s foreign policy decisions as “feckless.” In this instance, McCain was right.
But to indict Donald Trump’s foreign policy decisions, whether it be his intervention in Syria or his recent trip to meet with Middle Eastern leaders, less than six months into his presidency, is unfair.
This is particularly true because Trump has received praise from most in his party for delivering a clear stance against terrorism while in the cradle of Islamist extremism, a stance Obama consistently failed to deliver over the course of eight years.
McCain is clearly not assessing the realities as most conservatives interpret them, instead finding reason to criticize, with extreme malice, Trump’s decision-making every time he gets in front of a microphone.
But why has this war of words continued to wage on?
While Donald Trump has begun implementing an agenda that has yet to clash with the ideals of his party, McCain seems to see the President in an increasingly harmful light.
McCain, quite clearly, has taken Trump’s slights more personally than any of his fellow Republicans who once faced Trump’s wrath. He just can’t let the POW comment go.
While the explanation that McCain is merely a proud veteran whose pride has been irreparably wounded is pertinent, pride alone does not seem to encapsulate the McCain/Trump feud. A quest by McCain to defend his honor against a man that the American people endorsed with their most precious form of support, their vote, is not enough to explain McCain’s apparent martyrdom.
Because, make no mistake about it, chastising Donald Trump and what he has done so far as President means chastising the conservative agenda as it stands in 2017.
And chastising the conservative agenda as Governor of Arizona is not a recipe for re-election. Perhaps McCain realizes the potentially career-ending ramifications of his words. Unless he plans on switching parties, he appears to be booking his own one-way ticket out of conservatives’ good graces.
Assuming that McCain is not planning on pulling a Joe Lieberman and switching parties should he not be re-elected in 2018, his lack of political gamesmanship is almost completely outside of the confines of rationality.
And perhaps that is exactly the point. Increasingly, John McCain, 80 years old with unthinkable levels of mental and physical trauma endured throughout his life, appears to be acting irrationally.
I’m no doctor, merely a stunned observer. But one does not require a medical license to know that this man is not acting in his right mind:
It’s sad to witness any man in decline. To witness the apparent undoing of a respected veteran and conservative mainstay is particularly difficult. But with each public appearance and comment, McCain makes this reality impossible to ignore: this isn’t the McCain of old, not even the McCain of 2008 that could not hold a candle to Barack Obama on the campaign trail.
It’s a John McCain apparently more concerned with demonizing the President, a man who appears to be upholding the conservative ideals he ran upon, than with advancing legislation that would benefit the citizens of Arizona.
It’s a McCain who, as recently as the James Comey hearings, appeared confused, disoriented, and utterly incompetent.
And it is a John McCain that continues to subvert his own party, and to what end? His own political demise? Donald Trump and therefore the Republicans’ demise?
Time will tell which of those political realities come to fruition. They are not mutually exclusive.
But, as a conservative, I wish McCain would heed the wisdom that prompted Paul Ryan to change course from a Trump critic to a skeptical supporter. Unwarranted, hyperbole-ridden criticisms of the President gives credence to the opposition doing the exact same thing.
An unprompted comment questioning Donald Trump’s ability to protect America, and in turn the Western world, is a comment endorsing whichever Democratic nominee will take the stage against Donald Trump in 2020.
He is essentially functioning in service of the Democratic Party with each Trump-bashing crusade he embarks upon, whether he realizes it or not.
And that is not the John McCain that conservatives know. Not even close.