Arizona Sen. John McCain: In a new fight for his life
Arizona’s U.S. Sen. John McCain has been a difficult Republican for libertarian limited-government conservatives like us to embrace. Often, we stand opposite him on important issues of the day. He is too lacking in overarching principle for our taste. James has called on him to retire and actually sided with his Republican primary opponents in 2010 and 2016.
Yet, today we are sad.
McCain’s diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumor brought this sadness. His life includes having spent over five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, suffering injuries at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors that make it impossible for him to raise his arms over his head. McCain has overcome these challenges to become one of the most influential, if not also controversial, senators in history.
He earned his maverick reputation for consistently doing what he thinks is right, and not being married to the Republican Party philosophically. Conservatives found this frustrating, yet it is one reason he also gets a great deal of respect from all corners of the political spectrum. He seems to enjoy fighting Establishment politics, and to embrace being the maverick. While we disagree often with him, these characteristics give him much in common with us.
McCain ran for president twice, once in 2000 when he lost the Republican nomination in a particularly nasty primary battle with then Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. Bush went on to win the presidency, and McCain opposed much of the Bush agenda during the eight years President Bush served. The primary instance of this opposition was McCain’s opposition to the Bush tax cuts, when he was one of only two Republicans to vote against the package.
During the Bush Administration, he led the so-called “Gang of 14,” the group of senators who established a compromise to avoid the elimination of the filibuster rule for judicial appointees. It was emblematic of McCain’s work in reaching across the aisle and having no fear of working with his Democrat Party counterparts. It also helped to preserve the filibuster rule until Sen. Harry Reid used the nuclear option to railroad Democrat judicial appointments through the Senate during the Obama Administration.
In 2008, McCain found himself severely lagging in the presidential race, running behind Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee for a nomination most Republican insiders thought he would command. In his typical maverick style, he took his fight to the streets in New Hampshire and won a hard fought victory in the primary there over Romney, who had been favored because he was the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts.
McCain won a series of narrow contests in winner-take-all delegate contests, dominating the Super Tuesday primaries and winning the nomination. He then fully confirmed his reputation as a maverick by doing the equivalent of throwing a Hail Mary pass, political style. He chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, appealing to the conservative wing of the party with the choice and providing his campaign with the only significant momentum it was able to achieve against the false “Hope and Change” campaign of Barack Obama.
In the end, McCain lost to Obama. However, his insistence on keeping his campaign on a positive message, even releasing a commercial during the Democrat National Convention when Obama was nominated congratulating his opponent on a “job well done” was refreshing, to say the least.
Today we see constant attacks on our President, especially by the fake news media, following what might be the single most negative presidential campaign in history. Thus, the civility McCain demonstrated may have been a reason why he never really threatened Obama after mid-September. However, McCain stayed the course and never went negative. That merits recognition.
Perhaps he should have asked the Russians for help.
With a Democrat president, McCain did side more with Republicans on most issues during the Obama Administration, opposing Obamacare and the DREAM Act and criticizing the Obama foreign policy. Yet, true to his maverick ways, he broke with Republicans by opposing the government shutdown in 2013.
Now, he faces a new fight. A fight for his life.
We know better than to bet against McCain. And we wish him well.
Ron Knecht is Nevada controller. James Smack is deputy controller.