After rejecting Trump, McCain navigates tougher GOP path
In his pursuit of a sixth term, Republican Sen John McCain reluctantly stood by Donald Trump for months despite personal insults and the bombastic businessman’s string of controversial claims. That tepid support ended earlier this month after the release of a 2005 recording in which Trump used crude, predatory language to boast about groping women. The Arizona lawmaker said the GOP presidential nominee’s behavior and “demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults” made it impossible to offer even conditional support.
Some Republicans are clearly angry. Conservatives routinely boo McCain when Trump mentions his name at rallies in Arizona, and some are unwilling to back his candidacy over his disavowal of the nominee. “It puts us into a very difficult position because I support the Republican candidates, but I will not support anybody who will not support our nominee, Donald Trump,” Phoenix resident Vera Anderson said this week. “So I will not support McCain.”
The 80-year-old senator and two-time presidential candidate still has a solid advantage in polls over Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, even as conservative Arizona grows more competitive in the presidential race. Democrat Hillary Clinton is investing money in the state and dispatching big-name surrogates, including first lady Michelle Obama and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. McCain has displayed confidence, leaving Arizona to campaign for other Republican Senate candidates in closer races in Pennsylvania and Indiana.
His campaign experience - five Senate races, two House races and two presidential bids - shows. Before groups, he’s folksy, cutting self-deprecating jokes or nearly politically incorrect quips to loosen the crowd. He gigs the Marine Corps (McCain was a naval aviator), tells a well-worn Irish joke (he says it’s the only ethnic barb he can tell without backlash) and often mentions his first campaign (“during the Coolidge administration,” he jests).
Then he swings through his top campaign topics, noting a list of things he’s done for Arizona before warning of the growing threats across the globe from Russia, China and the Middle East. He blames the man who vanquished him in 2008 - President Barack Obama - for many of the world’s problems. The pragmatic senator who has worked with Democrats on immigration took a surprising stand on Supreme Court nominees, pledging this week that Republicans would unite against any pick from Clinton if she becomes president.
An aide later clarified that he will examine the record of anyone nominated for the high court and vote for or against that person based on their qualifications. McCain has spent most of the year doing a delicate dance in offering lukewarm support of Trump even after the presidential nominee bashed McCain as a “loser” and “not a war hero” because he was shot down and captured during the Vietnam War. The senator criticized Trump for making disparaging remarks about NATO, immigrants, Muslims and a Gold Star family who lost a son in Iraq but stuck by him until this month.
McCain has grown visibly frustrated after reporters ask him about Trump, and his latest strategy essentially is to avoid the media. He’s dodged reporters from The Associated Press and other outlets after events and refused to answer basic questions about the race. After Trump refused to say at the final debate whether he will accept the election results, McCain issued a sharp statement Thursday highlighting his 2008 concession, saying congratulating the winner and calling them “my president” is “the American way.”
WASHINGTON: In this Jan 7, 2009 file photo, Sen John McCain, R-Ariz, left, and Sen Russ Feingold, D-Wis, take part in a news conference on Capitol Hill.