Sill, in most pursuits, and through his waning days, the senator has imbued his actions and words with a haughty yet self-effacing sense of patriotism and honor, most clearly on display these days with his repudiation of the “half-baked, spurious nationalism” of President Trump’s politics.
All the same, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that McCain and his Republican cohort—Sen. Bob Corker, former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Lindsay Graham—helped midwife the conservative politics they now so clearly loathe. The twin follies of promiscuous war and unbridled GOP growth of government, lashed to sporadic and transparently insincere nods toward populism, has turned a generation of voters against the Republican establishment. It remains to be seen if the rejection will be permanent.
Goldwater conservatism has mostly been chased off—fellow Arizonan Jeff Flake, arguably the most Goldwaterite member of the Senate, is quitting rather than fighting the Trump wave. If McCain conservatism is going to last longer than its namesake, it will have to confront the errors that made Trump possible.