By Bob Gaydos
What will it take for John McCain to finally go after Donald Trump?
Clearly, there can be no love lost between the Arizona senator and the befuddled president. Nor is it likely there is any mutual respect.
During the presidential campaign Trump insulted McCain as ‘’no hero’’ for his service as a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War. Trump, who did not serve in the military, said he didn’t regard people who were taken prisoner as heroes. McCain’s plane was shot down over Vietnam. He was held prisoner for five-and-a-half years and was tortured by the North Vietnamese.
More recently, McCain called Trump up short by insisting that the United States does not torture prisoners, despite the president’s comments to the contrary. McCain also went out of his way to call the prime minister of Australia to let him know that the United States still regards his country as a close ally, despite Trump’s rude phone call with him. In response to this, Trump called McCain, who was the Republican candidate for president in 2008, a ‘’loser.’’
McCain also questioned the wisdom and success of the recent U.S. raid in Yemen in which a Navy SEAL was killed along with several civilians, including children. In response, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said anyone who questioned the success of the raid was doing a disservice to the memory of the SEAL. Another shot at McCain.
McCain responded: “Many years ago when I was imprisoned in North Vietnam, there was an attempt to rescue the POWs. Unfortunately, the prison had been evacuated. But the brave men who took on that mission and risked their lives in an effort to rescue us prisoners of war were genuine American heroes. Because the mission failed did not in any way diminish their courage and willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive. Mr. Spicer should know that story.”
There are a lot of things Spicer should know, but there are many more important things that his boss should know and doesn’t. And McCain surely knows that. Trump’s bumbling through foreign affairs would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so serious. But the mysteriously tangled relationship between Trump and Russia dwarfs all of Trump’s miscues thus far in its potential for serious damage.
McCain, as a senior member of the Republican leadership in the Senate, is well-position to demand an independent inquiry into Trump’s Russian ties. Another Republican veteran in the Senate, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has also been critical of Trump and often stands with McCain on issues. The two men have standing within their party and on the other side of the aisle for their long years of service as well as their willingness to occasionally tell the truth as they see it, rather than as their party leaders would have us see it
The question is how long McCain can stand by, apparently in the name of party loyalty, and offer occasional criticism while Trump makes a mockery of the Constitution, tarnishes the presidency, and erodes America’s credibility as a world leader. As a former presidential candidate for his party, McCain should be livid with Republicans’ current representative in the White House. Maybe he is.
The senator shows more and more signs of losing his patience with Trump. In a speech McCain gave recently at a security conference in Munich, he basically shredded Trump’s foreign policy, his position on immigrants, his critical statements about NATO and his penchant for making things up. As for Trump seeing no difference between Russian and American behavior, McCain had this to say: “ I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries. I am a proud, unapologetic believer in the West, and I believe we must always, always stand up for it, for if we do not, who will?’’
Strong words, and he never mentioned Trump by name. Still, by not challenging Trump with actions as well as words, McCain leaves himself open to criticism that, while he may be prone to occasional flashes of anger, he’s not willing to risk losing whatever standing, power, and influence he may have within his party by engaging in an all-out fight with the president based on principle.
A willingness to set aside his principles in a search for power was evident in McCain’s presidential campaign when he sold his soul to the religious right at Liberty University and followed that up by losing his mind and picking Sarah Palin, the Tea Party Queen, as his running mate. He will never live that decision down, but he can make up for it.
Republican congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan show no sign they are willing to do their jobs and hold the president accountable. Their behavior is beyond cowardly. It’s an insult to the concept of leadership. McCain can fill this vacuum. In fact, it’s almost made for him. And it’s not as if he has anything to lose at this point in his career. He’s 80-years-old and was just elected to another six-year term In the Senate. This could well be his last rodeo, so why not make it a worthwhile ride and break a bull who’s been turned loose in the White House?