RIP, John McCain: You Did It Your Way
Whatever else might say about John McCain, you can’t deny that he made an extraordinary impact on the fabric of our nation throughout his years of public service. While the crusty senator from Arizona was never able to grab the brass ring and bring it home – he lost in the 2000 primaries and he lost to Democratic phenom Barack Obama when he made it to the big leagues in 2008 – he put his indelible stamp on everything he did in Washington. Not all of it was for the best (and McCain was the first to admit that he’d made his mistakes) but, like Frank Sinatra, he did it his way.
McCain got one last round of high-profile headlines in 2015 when upstart candidate Donald Trump told an interviewer that he wasn’t sure if the former POW deserves to be called a “war hero.” For all of Trump’s phrases destined to go down in history, “I like people who weren’t captured” is certain to be chief among them. This was Trump doing what Trump does: Attacking people who have already attacked him. When it comes to counterpunching, there are no sacred cows in Trump’s world. This is a man who, later on in the campaign, thought nothing of taking a side swipe at none other than the frigging Pope!
Still, the insult undoubtedly stuck in McCain’s craw.
Over the course of Trump’s first year in office, the famously-irritable Arizona Republican seemed to make it his professional mission in life to get revenge on the man who questioned his war service. On several occasions, he released public statements and gave high-profile speeches that appeared to target Trump and his populist revolution. He decried the president’s remarks on NATO, blasted him for attempting to bridge the gap with Russia, and expressed revulsion at Trump’s Charlottesville remarks.
The real “payback” moment, of course, came last summer when McCain rescued defeat from the jaws of victory with the famous thumbs-down on the Senate’s Obamacare repeal bill. That vote essentially killed what had been months of shaky progress on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, cementing McCain’s status as a maverick while leading millions of conservatives to wonder about the senator’s true motivations. Some of that sudden hostility from the base was softened by the news of McCain’s cancer diagnosis, but there’s no question that he dealt his reputation some damage in his final years. Like his fellow Arizonian, Jeff Flake (among others), McCain was never quite able to get on board the Trump Train and leave behind the Republican Party of old.
Whether or not his last few years left a permanent blemish on his legacy is in the eye of the beholder. Some – like many on the left, naturally – think McCain was at his best when he turned against the president. Others feel that he was never the conservative he claimed to be and was partly responsible for the globalist mess that Trump was elected to fix. There are those who blame him for choking in 2008 and giving the world the Obama years, and there are those who will forever despise him for introducing the country to Sarah Palin. And then there are those for whom McCain’s stoic heroism in a Vietnam prison camp is all that really matters.
Wherever you happen to land on the man as a politician, a professional, a soldier, or a public ambassador, you can’t accuse John McCain of floating easily with the wind. He was a fighter his whole life. He did it his way, and we won’t soon forget him.