It makes me laugh that some Trumpers are butthurt about this. They hate McCain for a million reasons; McCain hates Trump for a million different ones; Trump has mocked McCain publicly and privately. Even absent the mockery, most of Trump’s life is an affront McCain’s beliefs in public service and internationalism. He missed the Vietnam War (as did McCain’s buddy Joe Biden), threw his energy into getting rich and bedding women, and ran for president promising to bring home American troops and to seal the border. As both personalities and exemplars of their respective political philosophies, they’re oil and water. If ever there was an invitation you’d expect to neither be offered nor accepted, it’s this one, especially once the mockery is accounted for.
The only reason to do it would be politesse. He’s the president, therefore he must be invited. But since when do populists care about establishment etiquette conventions?
I think the butthurt has less to do with McCain himself than with the facts that (1) any slight to Trump by a RINO grates, since it’s a reminder of establishment disdain for populists, and (2) Obama is being invited to the funeral not just to attend but to eulogize McCain. Supposedly that’s irritating because it proves McCain has a soft spot for Democrats, just as his critics have always said. Really, though, it irritates populists because it shows that McCain esteems Obama as a person more than he does Trump despite the sporadic nastiness of O’s campaign towards McCain in 2008, a terrible heresy in the age of negative partisanship. Any Republican should prefer Trump to Obama, the theory goes, even when he’s in his casket and politics don’t matter anymore.
People close to Sen. John McCain have told the White House that the ailing Arizona Republican does not want President Donald Trump to attend his funeral and would like Vice President Mike Pence to come instead, a source close to McCain confirmed to NBC News.
The NYT has heard the same thing, along with some provocative political news:
His intimates have informed the White House that their current plan for his funeral is for Vice President Mike Pence to attend the service to be held in Washington’s National Cathedral but not President Trump, with whom Mr. McCain has had a rocky relationship.
And some of his associates, though not his family, have started to quietly put out word that they want a “McCain person” eventually appointed to fill his Senate seat, a roster that includes his wife, Cindy.
Cindy McCain is in the mix for Maverick’s seat? Why? Even the “Kennedy seat” isn’t hereditary anymore. Presumably that’s less about keeping the seat in the family than it is about keeping the seat out of populist hands. If you want a McCain-style internationalist capable of fending off a primary challenge from the right in Arizona, your only option may be someone on the ballot with the McCain name brand.
The most interesting bit in the NYT story isn’t McCain disinviting Trump to his funeral, it’s his remorse about putting Sarah Palin on the ticket in 2008. There’s no hostility towards her from McCain based on the excerpts I’ve seen. It’s more a matter of Maverick wishing he’d been more mavericky when it counted *and* regretting that he inadvertently helped launch the populist wave that’s now consumed the GOP by elevating Palin. She was the right’s favorite populist before Trump eclipsed her, someone who unleashed “the forces of grievance politics and nativism within the Republican Party,” as the Times puts it. Obviously a better move would have been to nominate … a pro-choice Democrat?
In an excerpt of the book posted online by NPR, McCain called Palin “a popular, energetic and accomplished reformer.” But he also admitted there were some problems.
“She stumbled in some interviews and had a few misjudgments in the glare of the ceaseless spotlight,” McCain wrote. “Those missteps too are on me. She didn’t put herself on the ticket. I did.”
Wishing he’d nominated Lieberman over Palin makes sense if and only if he’s concluded that nothing he could have done in 2008 would have held back the Democratic tide after the double whammy of Iraq and the financial crisis. That is, if McCain has made peace with the idea that he was destined to lose and to lose badly no matter what, he might regret with hindsight that he didn’t lose with his friend by his side, signaling the value of bipartisanship to an increasingly tribal country.
I do think he would have lost no matter what but nominating the 2000 Democratic VP nominee as the 2008 Republican VP might have triggered a more ferocious populist backlash than nominating Palin did. Right-wing activists dinged McCain repeatedly during the primaries that year for his “maverick” Democrat-hugging tendencies. If he had cemented that by passing over not just Palin but various other conversative-ish Republicans in favor of a Democratic pro-choicer, with the entire GOP establishment cheering him on, some social conservatives might have stayed home and some populists might have quit the party in disgust. And although Palin was the most significant Republican populist (for a few years) before Trump, I’m not convinced that passing her over in 2008 would have short-circuited Trump’s candidacy somehow. The tea party probably would have happened regardless as a reaction to Obama; Trump seized on that anti-Obama sentiment to dip his toe into politics in 2011 with his Birther tour. Palin is interesting less as a figure who shaped the politics that followed her than as an early indicator of how distant Republican leaders were politically from their own base. McCain put her on the ticket because he knew the right was unenthused about him. By 2015, after various successful tea-party challenges to Republican incumbents, everyone knew how unenthused Republican voters were about their leaders. Enter Trump.