by Jeffery Rendall
One would suppose it’s only natural for the critically ailing Arizona Senator John McCain to want to settle all his scores while he’s still able to do so, but a lot of people are taking issue with the manner in which he’s doing it.
Of course McCain is afflicted with what looks to be terminal brain cancer and he’s wasting no time in making sure the world understands just how he views his time on earth (looking back) before the historians and pundits pick through decades of events in his public career and personal life searching for clues as to why he did what he did. One of McCain’s most notable confessions in his new book is his admission that he regrets having chosen Sarah Palin as his 2008 running mate.
Ten years is a long time to drop such an explosive personal bomb, especially on someone who inseparably shares a lasting part of McCain’s political legacy.
For her part, Palin is taking the news with class but wonders…why now, John? Amy Lieu of Fox News reported, “Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and John McCain’s 2008 running mate, reportedly said she feels a ‘perpetual gut-punch’ every time she hears about McCain’s regret in picking her for his team.
“’That’s not what Sen. McCain has told me all these years, as he’s apologized to me repeatedly for the people who ran his campaign,’ Palin told The Daily Mail. She said over the years, ‘I stop him all the time and say, ‘Please don’t apologize.’’
“McCain wrote in his book, ‘The Restless Wave,’ that he regretted not choosing his friend, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, as his running mate, calling it ‘another mistake that I made,’ according to The New York Times. McCain reportedly wrote that his advisers warned him against picking a vice-presidential candidate who caucused with Democrats.”
Duh. For once the highly paid Republican establishment “advisers” were right. If McCain had opted for Lieberman in the summer of 2008 his conservative support would’ve evaporated. As it was nearly all conservatives were uneasy with the ultra-establishmentarian, amnesty-loving neoconservative-on-steroids McCain as the GOP’s presidential candidate. Elevating an exciting conservative/reformer like Sarah Palin was the only thing that saved McCain’s campaign from going down in history as one of the biggest disasters ever (as opposed to the biggest ever).
Remembering back, McCain’s rationale for Lieberman was the Connecticut senator was viewed as a “bipartisan moderate” who could help the ticket capture a chunk of independent voters who might otherwise consider Obama too liberal and inexperienced to assume the job of president. While it’s true Lieberman did support George W. Bush’s Iraq War, he was hardly “moderate” on any other issues vital to the conservative GOP base. Does McCain speculate rank-and-file Republicans would just cast aside their concerns about Lieberman’s liberalism simply because he was in favor of ramping up the war effort?
Would the grassroots have turned out in droves to see Joe Lieberman at a campaign event (like they did for Sarah Palin)? Has McCain forgotten that Lieberman already did the VP/running mate thing in 2000 as Al Gore’s chum for the Democrats? The Republican big donor class might have still contributed to the McCain ticket but what about the people out in the hinterlands who actually do the work of campaigning – the phone calls, envelope stuffing, precinct walking, door knocking…?
Not a chance. Lieberman’s a nice guy who used to appear on the Sean Hannity radio show all the time but he never came close to leaving the Democrat party even as his colleagues were running away from him ideologically. The most likely result of a Lieberman choice would have been a decided lack of grassroots enthusiasm for a Republican ticket that was already combatting the “Yes We Can!” momentum of Barry O and ‘ol uncle Joe Biden.
For what it’s worth it sounds like Palin is searching for reasons to give McCain the benefit of the doubt for writing something so inane about her – she chocks it up to McCain’s ghost writer misquoting the 2008 presidential candidate in saying he “regrets” choosing the Alaska governor in what was probably the most consequential political decision of his lifetime.
Here’s thinking McCain’s been sitting around a lot recently looking back at his life and reasoned, ‘If I’d only chosen Joe L. in 2008 I would’ve been president’!
Besides, McCain’s been in a very self-protective mood lately, including snidely defending his role in turning over the now-infamous Trump dossier to the FBI. Brett Samuels reported at The Hill, “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wrote in his upcoming memoir that he does not regret alerting the FBI about the so-called Steele dossier, which details President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. McCain acknowledged in January 2017 that he delivered a dossier of ‘sensitive information’ to then-FBI Director James Comey.
“In his upcoming book, ‘The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations,’ McCain wrote that he ‘did what duty demanded I do’ in passing on the documents.
“’I discharged that obligation, and I would do it again. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go to hell,’ McCain said, according to excerpts of the book published by The Guardian.”
McCain justified his action by claiming any hint the incoming president might be compromised by the Russians needed to be looked into. Forget the fact that subsequent thorough examinations of the dossier’s claims have led to perhaps the largest and most fruitless political witch hunt of all time – but if anyone doesn’t like the millions of dollars wasted and time lost on the endeavor…we can all “go to hell” according to the ailing senator.
In other words, McCain laments choosing Sarah Palin for his running mate but isn’t the least bit sorry he helped foster a phony national hysteria that’s severely damaged the prestige of America’s intelligence agencies and tarnished almost beyond repair the reputation of federal law enforcement. None of that stuff’s important apparently…talk about faulty priorities.
It’s a shame McCain’s choosing to exit this way since it’s making him look petty at a time when he should be putting his house in order and seeking out old adversaries to make amends. It’s evident McCain isn’t troubled by the prospect of going before his maker with a disturbed soul. All of this is the final episode of arrogance from a man who garnered a reputation as a “maverick” mainly because he enjoyed ticking off his friends.
I will not be among those lining up to buy and read McCain’s final reflections on his fascinating life. McCain will always be remembered fondly for his service to his country but his political career – especially the final decade of it – has left a lot of questions unanswered as to his true motivations and causes. It’s all well and good to be seen as “above party” (like Sen. Rand Paul) but being well respected by your colleagues should count for something, shouldn’t it?
There are signs McCain’s military career legacy might suffer posthumously as well. Naomi Lim reported in the Washington Examiner last week, “Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney on Thursday referred to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as ‘Songbird John’ and said torture worked on the former POW.
“McInerney, during an interview on Fox Business Network, was slamming McCain’s refusal to support CIA director nominee Gina Haspel over her past work at the agency involving enhanced interrogation techniques that are considered torture.
“’The fact is, is John McCain — it worked on John. That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John,’’ McInerney said.”
This news comes on the heels of a White House official remarking last week during a meeting that McCain was “dying anyway”. McCain’s disapproval of Haspel isn’t surprising considering his longtime and understandable opposition to any forms of torture – and what McInerney and the official (identified as Kelly Sadler) uttered probably aren’t in the best taste and tact…even if what they said contains hints of truth.
Many reputable conservatives are joining McCain in opposing Haspel’s nomination, a good example of how principled people can support Trump and still disagree with some of his decisions (in this case, Trump’s choice to nominate Haspel). But merely disagreeing with McCain isn’t sufficient reason to trash his character, especially at this late stage of his life. Bashing the ill McCain makes McInerney and Sadler look small — to take pot shots at a dying man because he has principled objections to a political nominee is excessive.
I myself labeled McCain a “traitor” last fall when he singlehandedly deflated the GOP’s final attempt at repealing/fixing Obamacare. In that case McCain’s selfish grandstanding impacted millions of people across the country suffering under the cost burdens of Obamacare. McCain’s reasons for not going along with his fellow Republican senators (that the bill wasn’t “bipartisan” and hashed out in committee) weren’t good enough to rationalize his stonewalling.
One way or another McCain is certain to leave behind a complicated legacy. It appears he’s leaving no subject unaddressed these days – let’s hope at the very least he can enjoy some peace in the time he has left.
There’s no telling whether McCain will be able to weigh-in on the next presidential election, but for those self-labeled “conservatives” who opposed Trump in 2016 (including McCain), the calculus is more complicated when considering the next time around.
Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner wrote, “[E]very Republican president has pursued policies that have rankled conservatives. Trump’s deviations from conservative ideology are no more egregious than President Bush’s imposition of steel tariffs and massive expansion of Medicare. Yet most conservatives voted to reelect him.
“This isn’t to say that everybody who had reservations in 2016 should hop aboard the Trump train. To be sure, his casual lies, erratic behavior, bombastic morning tweets, stories surrounding the hush payment to a porn star, and whatever else may emerge in the next two and a half years, could provide many reasons for some conservatives to remain in the Never Trump camp in 2020.
“Yet, there will be no hacking of the Kobayashi Maru next time around. Or put another way, NeverTrumpers won’t be able to make the argument that Trump is a liberal anyway and thus there’s not much cost in refusing to support him. He’ll have a record with a number of conservative accomplishments, and it’s quite likely that any Democratic nominee will be to the left of Clinton, making the contrast even more severe. For conservative Trump critics, 2020 will make for a much more direct choice between their moral sense and their ideological beliefs.”
As long as there are human beings living in close proximity with each other there invariably will be conflicts. 2016’s schism between the vast majority of conservatives and Republicans versus the #NeverTrumpers appeared to be mainly over differences in personality.
As Klein pointed out, many anti-Trump Republicans believed Trump was a closet liberal who would run roughshod over limited government principles and huddle with his old pal Democrats to trounce the platform of the GOP. It hasn’t happened that way, which means most of the remaining objections to Trump are still personality related.
That surely seems to be the case for John McCain…and unfortunately, he’s not willing to let bygones be bygones where Trump is involved. It’s a shame.
No one can say for sure what John McCain’s final legacy will be; for all we know a few chapters are yet to be written. One thing seems certain, however – McCain won’t exit quietly. Conservatives should be prepared for more surprises as the old “maverick” rides into the sunset.