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John McCain has the right to despise Donald Trump

A great many Republicans have had their differences with Arizona Sen. John McCain over the years, and some of Preside...

Posted: May 8, 2018 9:19 AM
Updated: May 8, 2018 9:19 AM

A great many Republicans have had their differences with Arizona Sen. John McCain over the years, and some of President Donald Trump's biggest supporters are using the occasion of the release of the senator's memoir to bash McCain in the sunset of his career and life.

They take to Twitter to bash a guy who suffered torture for his country, lived a life of public service and consequence, and has the audacity to express his political opinions and preferences on who eulogizes him.

You don't have to love John McCain to know this is wrong and, as Jonah Goldberg put it, "grotesque."

It is true that those of us who supported George W. Bush over McCain in the 2000 GOP primary found his attacks against Bush to be whiny and irritating. McCain's position and vitriolic statements on campaign finance "reform" were grating, especially when you consider that his legislation did the opposite of reforming the system. It drove money out of the hands of candidates and parties, and into the shadows of outside groups.

McCain's legacy on campaign finance, well-meaning as it may have been, is a broken system that he helped to drive fully off the rails.

But he has been a loyal American and Republican all his life. He barnstormed the country for Bush in 2000 and 2004. I saw him on the campaign trail for Mitt Romney in 2012. He took on the mantle of Republican nominee for President in 2008, trying desperately to hold the White House for a party whose President was suffering from low approval ratings.

Despite his ditching the GOP on a handful of issues (most recently Obamacare repeal), McCain has mostly been a solid citizen in the Senate. He has opposed wasteful spending (a Republican staple), and even now, serving under a President he clearly despises, votes for the Trump agenda 83% of the time, according to 538's "Trump Tracker." That's a better "Trump Score" than Susan Collins, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, and nearly 22 points more than the tracker would expect based on the 2016 outcome in Arizona.

Another 538 article pointed out that McCain stuck with the GOP on party-line votes 87% of the time, just below the average of 91% for all Republicans. He has a lifetime voting score from the American Conservative Union of nearly 81% over 35 years of service.

McCain has been a maverick at times, but he will long be remembered as a mostly loyal and conservative Republican who sometimes had differences of opinion and style with other leaders in his party. He was never afraid to fight people in his own party, or in the other one.

But it is McCain's attacks on Trump, including those in his new book "The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations," that have some Trump supporters criticizing a man who is dying of brain cancer. They don't like it that McCain reportedly doesn't want Trump attending his funeral, while former Presidents Bush and Barack Obama will deliver eulogies.

What do you expect? McCain and Trump don't like each other, and I don't know too many people who want people they don't like at their funeral.

Trump assailed McCain during the 2012 primary ("I like people who weren't captured," Trump said of McCain). McCain turned around and voted against Obamacare repeal in 2017 despite urging from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, delivering the bill-crushing vote with a theatrical middle-of-the-night thumbs-down.

Despite their political differences, McCain got along with Bush and Obama, and it makes sense for them to eulogize a genuine American war hero who dedicated his entire life to public service.

In 2000, McCain ran as the anti-establishment insurgent, trying to upend the Bush apple cart.

But today, at the sunset of McCain's life and career, it is another group of insurgents, Trump and his supporters, who cast McCain as an unreliable relic, out of touch with the people of Arizona and the Republican Party. They hate his views on immigration and his detestation of Trump's behavior and style.

In some ways, Trump pulled off what McCain was trying to do back in 2000. McCain called it the "Straight Talk Express," pulling no punches and offering unprecedented press access. He didn't win but forever absorbed the brand of "maverick" in the process.

Trump did the same thing. He ran against the establishment and was the most press accessible candidate in 2016. McCain was, tactically, ahead of his time, while Trump got the timing just right.

McCain will be remembered as a war hero, American patriot and public servant who was conservative but unafraid to buck his party from time to time. He will be remembered for clashing with Trump and suffering for it politically among members of his own party.

He will be remembered for picking Sarah Palin and later regretting it. He will be remembered for making the campaign finance system worse while trying to make it better. He will be remembered for being entangled in the Keating Five ethics scandal.

He will be remembered for being tortured, and then leading the opposition to certain interrogation tactics during the Global War on Terror.

But no matter how you remember him or what you think of him, John McCain has earned the right to speak his mind and to have anyone at his funeral he wants. Feel free to disagree with McCain, but lay off the vitriolic, tribal attacks.

He suffered mightily for your right to do so.

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