The T-word is never mentioned so you’re free to read this as an attack on nationalism more broadly if you like, but given the antagonism between McCain and Trump, there’s really no doubt at whom this speech is aimed. Like WaPo says, the line “I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries” is obviously a barely disguised shot at Trump’s recent ambivalence about Putin being called a “killer.” (It’s also a point you’ll often hear McCain make in defending his opposition to waterboarding, a practice Trump continues to support but apparently won’t reinstate as president.)
When was the last time a sitting president was slammed in a speech abroad by a legislator from his own party?
“[Previous post-war generations] would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood, and race, and sectarianism.
“They would be alarmed by the hardening resentment we see toward immigrants, and refugees, and minority groups, especially Muslims.
“They would be alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies.
“They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.
One interesting note about two-thirds through: McCain mentions, by name, how many Trump administration officials set to appear at the conference share his view that traditional western liberal values are worth preserving. Pence, Mattis, John Kelly, the congressional delegation — McCain’s trying to reassure Germany and the EU here, as they contemplate cozying up to China for fear of a Trump-led America’s unpredictability, that the new Trumpian order is still led mostly by Republicans from the pre-Trumpian order. Which is true but also surreal insofar as he’s rhetorically pitting Trump’s own top deputies against the president himself. If you’re a EUrocat, what do you do with that information? Trump’s in charge, but he’s not really in charge?
McCain reiterated the point in a different context during a Q&A after his speech, reminding the audience that Trump doesn’t wield supreme power and that the judiciary and (giggle) legislature are still there to assert their constitutional checks. The takeaway he’s going for is that Trumpism will blow over soon enough and that Europe should be patient and stick with America until the storm passes. We’ll see what Trump and Steve Bannon have to say about that. Exit question: Would this speech to a group of Europeans about how much better the GOP used to be have gone over better coming from someone who wasn’t one of the Iraq war’s most ardent, unbendable supporters?