The Arizona Senator repeatedly made clear that he saw Trump and his America First ideology as a departure from the values and traditions of global leadership that he saw epitomized in the United States.
McCain had been planning his funeral services over the last year and his family made clear that Trump is not invited, a position that has not changed, two family friends said Saturday. Former rivals and Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush were asked to give eulogies, people close to both former presidents and a source close to the senator told CNN earlier this year.
McCain’s two losing presidential campaigns meant he fell short of the ultimate political prize, one his story once seemed to promise after he came home from Vietnam and caught the political bug. In the end, he became a scourge of presidents rather than President himself.
At the time of his death, he was largely an anomaly in his own party — as one of the few Republicans willing to criticize Trump and a believer in the idealized “shining city on a hill” brand of conservatism exemplified by his hero Ronald Reagan that has been dislodged by the nativist and polarizing instincts of the current President. He was also a throwback to an earlier era when political leaders, without betraying their own ideology, were willing on occasion to cross partisan lines.
In a Washington career that spanned 40 years, first as a Navy Senate liaison, then as a member of the House and finally as the occupant of the Senate seat he took over from Barry Goldwater, McCain was a conservative and a foreign policy hawk. But he was not always a reliable Republican vote, and sometimes in a career that stretched into a sixth Senate term, he confounded party leaders with his maverick stands. He defied party orthodoxy to embrace campaign finance reform, and excoriated President George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, for not taking enough troops to Iraq.
After Obama ended McCain’s second White House race in 2008, the senator blasted the new President’s troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, causing critics to carp that he had not yet reconciled the bitterness he felt in defeat. McCain had supported the invasion of Iraq carried out by the Bush administration in 2003, but admitted in his memoir “The Restless Wave” that the rationale, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was wrong.
“The war, with its cost in lives and treasure and security, can’t be judged as anything other than a mistake, a very serious one, and I have to accept my share of the blame for it,” he wrote.
More recently, as death approached, he became a strident critic of Trump, who had once said he didn’t consider the Arizona senator a war hero because he had been captured.
McCain questioned why Trump was solicitous of Vladimir Putin, whom he regarded as an unreformed KGB apparatchik.
In one of his final public acts, he blasted Trump’s cozy summit with the Russian President in July, blasting it as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake,” he said in a statement.
In July 2017, McCain returned from brain surgery to the Senate floor to lambaste “bombastic loudmouths” on the television, radio and internet and plead for a return to a more civilized political age, when compromise and regular order forged bipartisan solutions.
Then, in September, in a poignant speech that seemed designed to echo down the ages after he was gone, McCain reminded his colleagues they were a check on executive power: “We are not the President’s subordinates,” he said. “We are his equals.”
In a final act of defiant independence, McCain, with a dramatic thumbs-down gesture on the Senate floor in September, cast the vote that scuttled the GOP’s effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, causing fury within his party — a move that prompted Trump, to the fury of McCain’s family to repeatedly single him out in campaign rallies.
When the President signed McCain’s last legislative triumph in August, the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, he did not even mention the Arizona senator.