John McCain was a not only a legend of the United States Senate, he was also legend of the Sunday shows, as they are known in Washington, appearing on Meet the Press more times than any other guest in that show’s seven decades on NBC.
And those shows spent much of their airtime this Sunday paying tribute to the Arizona senator, who died on Saturday at the age of 81 after a battle with the brain cancer glioblastoma. But among those tributes, it was hard to miss the subtle and not-so-subtle digs at President Donald Trump, who spent his campaign and first year and a half in office at odds with McCain, to put it lightly.
Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd welcomed Hillary Clinton by phone on Sunday morning to share her remembrances of McCain, a sometime drinking partner. “The timing of his death in this moment that we’re in in our politics, there's a reason I think Washington's taking an extra stomach punch this morning,” Todd told Clinton. “The vacuum he leaves. The timing—we can't ignore this moment that he's leaving us.”
“You're a hundred percent right, Chuck,” Clinton replied. She said McCain understood that “our institutions are being severely tested right now, including his beloved Senate. And he was, in every way he knew how, trying to sound the alarm to get all of us as Americans to understand that if we abandon the ideals that we have stood for around the globe, if we turn our back on leadership on behalf of human rights and the kind of future we want to forge for our children and grandchildren, we will be giving up on what he fought for, what he was imprisoned for, what he stood for, and in a long line of American patriots.”
Neither mentioned Trump by name, but the implications of their words were clear. Similarly, during a roundtable discussion later in the show, Todd and his fellow journalists reminisced about how McCain would tease them with nicknames “scumbag,” but always did it with a smile. “He didn’t attack them personally on Twitter,” added Todd, who has been ridiculed by Trump in that fashion on numerous occasions.
Meanwhile, over on CNN, State of the Union host Jake Tapper also attempted to draw a contrast between McCain and Trump. “I can’t help but think the reason why there’s so much reverence for him today is because of who’s in the White House right now,” Tapper said at one point in his broadcast. “Because they are polar opposites.”
Echoing Todd’s question for Clinton, Tapper asked McCain’s fellow Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, “Do you think there's something about the character of Senator McCain that will be all the more missed because of the man who's in the White House right now?”
“We’ve certainly needed John McCain’s voice over the past year. And despite the circumstances, we’ve had it,” Flake acknowledged in response. “And I think that we could do with this kind of approach to politics, and we’d do well to remember John McCain and his legacy as we go forward. I know that that’s what he would like.”
And during an interview with former McCain advisor Steve Duprey about the late senator’s failed bids for the presidency in 2000 and 2008, Tapper noted, “He accepted defeat more graciously than I’ve seen some people accept victory.”