In a statement ostensibly about the late senator’s daughter and her decision to leave “The View,” Trump spent most of his time attacking McCain himself. Among the litany of abuse:
* Trump “made it possible for her father to have the world’s longest funeral, designed and orchestrated by him, even though I was never, to put it mildly, a fan.”
* Of McCain, Trump said: “In his own very special way, he was a RINO’s RINO.”
* Trump won Arizona in 2016 “despite [McCain] fighting against me.”
* Trump noted that McCain “was close to last in his class at Annapolis.”
Remember that Trump is talking about a man who spent years in a North Vietnamese prison camp where he was repeatedly tortured. The harm he suffered while in captivity stayed with him the rest of his life. (He could never lift his arm above his head again.) After his release, McCain served in the House and then was elected to the US Senate in 1986, where he served for more than three decades. He ran for president twice, winning the Republican nomination in 2008.
In short, whatever you think of McCain’s politics, this was a man who spent nearly his entire life serving his country in some way, shape or form. You can like or dislike him personally — and politically — but there is no way to dispute that.
Which brings me back to Trump. Who, despite insisting that no one loves the military (and its commanders) more than him, has now publicly denigrated two highly-decorated military men in the last five days.
The hypocrisy there is obvious. But of course, Trump won’t acknowledge it. That is simply Trump being Trump.
But what does it say about the party that Trump still leads that it allows this behavior to go on without any significant rebuke? Sure, you might find one or two senators who tut-tut or say that they would have said things differently. But there won’t be any widespread condemnation of his besmirching of not just two American heroes but two men who, for a very long time, were among the most admired figures in the Republican Party.
And why? Well, for some elected officials — particularly those elected in the mold of Trump over the last few elections — they agree with the former president. They didn’t — and don’t — like the politics of the likes of Powell and McCain and feel no particular loyalty to the brand of conservatism those men represent. (Whether they honor the service of McCain and Powell despite their political disagreements remains an open question.)
But for the bulk of Republicans, they stay silent because, well, they’re scared of getting on the wrong side of Trump — and what that might mean for their political careers.
The practical effect of the avoidance of calling out Trump is that views like the ones he has put forward on McCain and Powell over the last week are seen as acceptable to the broad swath of Republican voters. Which is a remarkable thing given that, for decades, the Republican Party has positioned itself as ardently pro-military and attacked Democrats when even a whiff of criticism about those who served emerges.
This is the Trump Republican Party circa 2021. And it’s not a very good look.