It’s been an eventful, snub-filled 48 hours. After posting a tweet on Saturday night expressing sympathy for McCain’s family, POTUS reportedly nixed the traditional laudatory official White House statement. Snub number one:
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and other White House aides advocated for an official statement that gave the decorated Vietnam War POW plaudits for his military and Senate service and called him a “hero,” according to current and former White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. The original statement was drafted before McCain died Saturday, and Sanders and others edited a final version this weekend that was ready for the president, the aides said.
But Trump told aides he wanted to post a brief tweet instead, and the statement praising McCain’s life was not released…
“It’s atrocious,” Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s legal team and a longtime Republican strategist, said of Trump’s reaction to McCain’s death. “At a time like this, you would expect more of an American president when you’re talking about the passing of a true American hero.”
This morning brought snub number two:
Flag back at full staff atop WH. Pres Trump did not issue proclamation on the death of @SenJohnMcCain, which usually calls for flags to remain at half-staff through the day of interment, which is Sunday at the @NavalAcademy. pic.twitter.com/NGasNPT0VB
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) August 27, 2018
Some noted on Twitter that official protocol calls for lowering the flag only for the day of and the day following a senator’s death, although I’ve seen others report what Knoller did, that by tradition it remains at half-staff until burial. Obama ordered flags lowered after Scalia, the bane of the left, died and kept them at half-staff for a week. At best, Trump did the absolute bare minimum of what was expected. As I write this at a little before 4 p.m. ET, though, he’s given into pressure and it’s now back at half-staff above the White House. Hmmm.
This afternoon brought snub number three. Anything you want to say, Mr. President?
WATCH: President Trump declines to comment when asked multiple times in the Oval Office for his thoughts on the death of John McCain. pic.twitter.com/7mxstj1CXT
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 27, 2018
The political chatterati on social media are mortified but I always appreciate when a politician shows us who he really is, warts and all. This is Trump making no pretenses. A Twitter pal wondered why he didn’t just say something short and sweet, if only to take the heat off: “John and I had our differences but he was a good man.” It’s because Trump doesn’t think McCain was a good man. To all appearances, his sense of morality is wholly determined by what people think of him. If you like Trump, you’re a good person, if you don’t, you’re not. Everything else is noise. It’s clear which category McCain was in.
The fact is that relations between him and McCain were far too poisoned to allow for even vacuous niceties. If Trump had said something complimentary, cable news would be running this clip for the next week to remind everyone that he didn’t really mean it:
That isn’t politics as usual. That isn’t one guy calling another guy a “RINO” over a political disagreement and then being asked to raise a glass to his finer qualities after he’s gone. This is Trump hating McCain so much that he’d question the heroism of anyone captured in war, let alone someone who endured what McCain endured, to try to demean him. You don’t get to send a condolence card after that and Trump at least had the sense to know it. If I were a McCain relative, it’d bother me more to see Trump shedding crocodile tears today after pissing on his Hanoi Hilton ordeal than having him bite his lip and say nothing.
Frankly, the latter is a more satisfying tribute to McCain than the former would be. McCain himself I’m sure would find it amusing to no end to watch Trump frozen, frowning and squirming, as reporters begged him to show a shred of respect for the war hero.
Some have argued that whether or not Trump feels any personal respect for the deceased, the office of the presidency demands some. Erick Erickson delivers a gut punch:
The White House flag is at full staff this morning while the rest of the flags in Washington are at half staff to honor John McCain. I get that the President did not like the man, but the Presidency is supposed to transcend the man in the office at the time and there are some things Presidents should do even if the men who temporarily dwell in the office prefer not to.
Honoring an American war hero with a distinguished career to his country is one of them. It’s actually a hell of a thing that the communist nation of Vietnam that held McCain prisoner and tortured him during war is offering more condolences and respect than the American President.
When you put it that way… Here again, though, people are asking Trump to be something other than what he is and what he ran as. There is no “office” apart from the man himself. There’s only Trump. This is a guy who carries out a near-daily vendetta against his own Attorney General on Twitter because Sessions refused to behave like a garbage Michael Cohen “fixer” in shielding him from the Russiagate probe. He expects his deputies to serve him, not “the office.” Elect a celebrity, particularly one who views the world through a lens of “good for me” versus “bad for me,” and you don’t get to complain that he has trouble keeping his state duties distinct from his personal prejudices.
And so I appreciate that he’s maintaining a respect-less silence towards McCain. I wish he were different but he isn’t, so he should be what he is and make us all live with it. And although he’ll get beat up for what he’s doing, he can console himself with this thought: Present-day America is far more Trump than it is McCain. To the extent that there was any “battle for the soul of the GOP” between the two, as the media took to framing it this weekend, there’s zero question who won. The country is a civic garbage fire. Under the circumstances, the commander-in-chief declining to honor a dead war hero is perfectly appropriate. And stay tuned — the odds that a frustrated Trump will say something actively insulting about McCain before the week is out may be small but they’re certainly not zero. Does anyone doubt that he has it in him?
Exit question: How did the Trump/McCain feud start anyway? I always assumed Trump lashed out at him for his POW service in 2015 because McCain had said something critical of his presidential candidacy. Not so. Trump was wondering aloud about McCain’s heroism in the war as far back as 1999. Is … this the answer? To think, if only Maverick had supported guaranteeing a loan for Trump’s business 20 years ago, the White House flag might have been at half-staff all the way through today.
Update: Lord only knows what sort of pressure Trump was getting from inside and outside the White House to reverse course. But he has.
Trump's first non-Twitter statement on McCain: "Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment." pic.twitter.com/N3ewC1CeqP
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 27, 2018
We’ll see if I’m right that cable news will unload on him now for the insincerity of the statement.