We should hardly be surprised at the venomous attacks on John McCain’s character and politics coming from rank-and-file Trump supporters. After all, they were guided and encouraged by the president. One has only to look at him sitting stiffly, arms crossed and with a smug look on his face, as TV reporters asked him why the American flag on the White House was not at half-mast, and why he had not released any official statement on McCain’s passing. The president simply ignored them.
It was predictable that Trump and his supporters would respond to the tremendous outpouring of praise for McCain by trying to destroy his reputation. Of course, after the American Legion criticized him, fearing total alienation of veterans’ support, he was forced to release a statement obviously written for him by a White House staff member. And after his tweet offering his family “deepest sympathies and respect,” but omitting anything about McCain’s legacy, the dog whistle to his followers was made clear.
Some conservative writers who had major political differences with McCain were not as obtuse and thoughtless. In National Review, Jonah Goldberg stood out, calling McCain’s brand of patriotism a sound alternative to that of Trump. And on this site, Matt Lewis saw the attacks on McCain as a metaphor for Reagan conservatism’s passing. Finally, at Commentary, Noah Rothman noted that on the right, some can “barely conceal their relief over the death of one of their staunchest ideological adversaries.”
Sadly, Rothman is right, and the vicious and nasty comments about McCain, especially on Twitter and Facebook, support his comment that that while some do praise his record of service to the nation, they do not dwell on “the ideas to which he devoted his public life.” I would add that when they do, it is only to disparage and mock them.
Take the comment by New Criterion editor and publisher Roger Kimball. Writing on the site of Spectator USA, Kimball asserts a meme being used by many who despise McCain: that of liberal hypocrisy. He and others argue that when McCain was running for president, The New York Times attacked him bitterly, accusing him of questioning the patriotism of his opponents. We all know that the Times and liberals were hypocritical, and that in the interest of electing Obama, they would say whatever negative about McCain that they could.
Kimball cannot help but begin his piece by letting out what he really thinks about McCain, noting that he was “always a deeply flawed candidate”; this from a man who sees nothing wrong with Donald Trump. After Trump won the nomination, Kimball emphasizes, McCain was “petty, self-aggrandizing, and harmful to the country.” Kimball, I remind readers, once wrote that Trump is a man who created “winning scenarios for Americans.”
Even more revealing was a column by Daniel McCarthy, also in Spectator USA. As he sees McCain, he always was not only “the neoconservatives’ early favorite” for the GOP nomination in 2008, he was a man with a vision of government power that liberals “found more to their liking,” and who had “a problem with the Republican right.”
Two days before his death, McCarthy notes that 47 percent of conservatives viewed him unfavorably, while 64 percent of liberals viewed him favorably. And then, of course, McCain is forever scorned for supporting the “Gang of Eight” and their proposal for liberalizing immigration law. Or, as McCarthy so gingerly asserts, McCain followed “fashionable liberal opinion.”
Historian Bruce Thornton, a professor of classics, praises the Senator on Frontpagemag for his heroism during Vietnam. Tortured and abused, McCain was “an iconic American hero,” a man committed to “the very American sense of fair play,” Thornton says. Alas, when he entered politics, Thornton argues, McCain became an “elite insider” who somehow failed to understand that a “bipartisan center” ended in the 1960s, as the Democrats favored some form of socialism, via “any means necessary” using the Alinsky playbook while ignoring our Constitution.
Claiming principle, McCain actually “carried water for the Democratic opposition.” He should have supported his fellow Republicans, who “still believed in America.” With these words, Thornton adds to the view held by the regular Trump voters, who believe that only the Trumpist GOP represents the real America, while its liberal opponents want the country’s decline and death. McCain had become, he writes, the Democrats’ “useful idiot.” Rather than criticize Trump for his spreading the “birther” myth about Obama, Thornton is upset that Democrats praised McCain taking up that task himself.
It is articles like these that egg on the regular Trump believers, who have since McCain’s death taken to Twitter and Facebook to condemn him in the harshest terms possible, revealing their utter hatred and contempt for him.
Stephen Kruiser, who volunteered for McCain during his presidential campaign, condemns him for being willing to “stab his own party in the back,” which he thinks is why the media and liberals love him. On Facebook, literary agent and writer Lynn Chu says he “meant well,” but pandered to the left with campaign finance reform, while neocons saw him as a “manipulable sucker.” She also wrote in an earlier post that McCain was an “asinine fool and as wrong as hell about practically everything.”
The only reason McCain is being praised, Rush Limbaugh explained, “is the opportunity it provides to continue to savage Donald Trump… showing Trump coming up short on virtually every measure.” It evidently has little to do with McCain’s principles, dignity, and willingness to stand by what he believes.
Such is the world in which many are now calling McCain a traitor, and resurrecting spurious claims from the far right that first arose during the 2008 campaign and were widely discredited as false. With these tactics, Trump’s supporters show how much we have lost with John McCain’s passing.