In 2015, during his presidential campaign, billionaire real estate tycoon Donald Trump infamously criticized U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) by stating that he liked people who “weren’t captured.” McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, is widely known for his five-and-a-half years as a prisoner-of-war in North Vietnam after being shot down as a naval aviator. When running for Congress in Arizona in the early 1980s, following his retirement from the Navy, the son and grandson of admirals famously fended off charges of carpetbagging by explaining that the longest place he had lived was Hanoi. Having withstood enemy torture while serving his country, Naval Academy graduate John McCain quickly became a modern-day hero.
Trump had attacked Republican royalty, and most pundits thought he was done for. Amazingly, the bombastic reality TV star not only survived, but went on to win the party’s nomination. His feud with McCain continued, and the two have been at odds over issues ranging from immigration to Russo-American relations. It’s no secret that McCain, along with every other Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan, thinks Trump is a buffoon who is unfit for the Oval Office. For his part, Trump probably views McCain as part of the corrupt and ineffective Washington establishment.
But the two conservative titans agree on one thing: Military spending.
Controversially, President Trump has publicly declared that he wants to boost American military spending by a whopping 10 percent for the next fiscal year, adding $54 billion to the Pentagon’s budget. Since Trump will not increase taxes, the jump in defense spending is intended to be paid for by sharp cuts to civilian federal spending. Outside of federal law enforcement, which gets a similar bump in funding compared to the military, all civilian agencies are expected to “tighten their belts.”
Not surprisingly, Trump’s budget proposal has met with swift condemnation from liberals, who highlight the social programs that will suffer. In fact, few Republicans in Congress have dared praise Trump’s radical budget proposals. Since Trump wants deep civilian cuts across the board, there are few Congressional districts that will not feel the pinch. In Texas, for example, many conservative districts rely on the Department of Agriculture and its programs. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), a usual supporter of Trump, has voiced his concerns with the proposed federal budget.
But a lonely voice is cutting through Washington in support of Trump’s military spending gambit: John McCain himself, Trump’s original GOP nemesis. In fact, McCain feels so strongly that our country needs to boost military spending that he is threatening to shut down the federal government if he needs to. A budget deal must be reached by April 28, and McCain has vowed that he will not vote for any budget that does not increase defense spending.
Although tough talk is first nature for McCain, threatening to shut down the federal government over a budget dispute is usually the province of more radical Senators like Ted Cruz (R-TX) or Rand Paul (R-KY). McCain usually receives praise for being willing to work across the political aisle, including with ultra-liberal Senate colleagues like Bernie Sanders (I-VT). His vow of scorched earth on the budget seems to run counter to his bipartisan acclaim and his status as an elder statesman of the Republican Party.
But McCain may well be true to his word, for he just won re-election in November. If there is ever a time for a Senator to take political risks, it is definitely the spring after winning another six-year term. He has plenty of time to rebuild his image at home in Arizona if his maverick turn on the budget proves unpopular. And, given McCain’s age, he may not seek re-election in 2022. Already 80 years old, this current term may be the Navy vet’s swan song.
If this is indeed McCain’s last term in Washington, he might be planning to live up to his maverick reputation and just not give a damn.
The only problem is that McCain’s obsession on military spending is just plain bad for America and helps the one person McCain should stick to not helping: Donald Trump. Trump would just love for McCain to shut down the federal government over his insistence on greater defense spending, as it helps Trump’s agenda while letting someone besides Trump be the fall guy. With the failure of the AHCA and the Democrats planning to go full-bore against Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Trump is desperate for a win.
McCain scaring the rest of the Republicans in Congress into voting for Trump’s outrageous defense increases by threatening to shut down the federal government in protest will hurt real people, including people in Arizona. The United States already spends far more on defense than any other nation on earth. In fact, we spend more than the next seven countries combined… and several of those are allies! Both McCain and Trump should read Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous quote about the military-industrial complex:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
Alarmingly, McCain may be trying to justify his demands for elevated military spending by encouraging North Korea to rattle its sabers. Far more than ISIS or Syria’s autocratic ruling regime, North Korea could give the United States an intense, although brief, conventional war. Commanding over a million soldiers and massed armor and artillery, dictator Kim Jong Un is not to be taken lightly. Senator McCain has irked the young ruler by referring to him as a “crazy fat kid.”
As per usual, North Korea has dubbed the insult a “declaration of war” and threatened retaliation. While the bluster of Pyongyang is nothing new, is McCain’s snide commentary toward its rotund dictator an intentional provocation? The old Navy vet, realizing that Congress is unlikely to give him his Pentagon funding wish list, may be trying to change their minds by seeding the clouds of war.
One piece of evidence that McCain is consciously baiting Kim Jong Un is the fact that McCain criticizes Donald Trump for the same blunt outspokenness. How can John McCain criticize Trump as an immature loudmouth and then mimic that same behavior? He may do so because he knows that calling a national lead a “crazy fat kid” is a good way to provoke an angry response… and one that makes it look like America ought to stock up on more guns and tanks.