President-Elect Donald Trump is discovering that you can’t drain the swamp without angering some swamp monsters — especially the ones who’ve lived there longest and have entrenched themselves the deepest. When Arizona Sen. John McCain was elected to Congress the first time, “E.T.” was crushing it at the box office, Trump Tower was still being built, and nobody had ever eaten a Chicken McNugget. McCain’s once-powerful influence in the GOP dried up years ago, but he doesn’t seem to realize it.
During the election, he was going back and forth about whether or not he would support Trump. He was the ultimate prisoner of the moment, calibrating his Trump support daily to align with the latest mainstream news narrative. He was deeply afraid that Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket would rob him of a sixth Senate term. Thanks to a recording obtained by Politico, we know he told a room of donors in private last May, “If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life. If you listen or watch Hispanic media in the state and in the country, you will see that it is all anti-Trump. The Hispanic community is roused and angry in a way that I’ve never seen in 30 years.”
Whenever someone has a terrible foreign policy idea, John McCain instinctively reaches for his pom-poms — so long as it involves more military intervention.
So, McCain tried to play both sides, engaging in the Goldilocks politics of making sure he didn’t play Trump too hot or too cold, but just right.
But now that McCain’s log in the swamp is officially safe until 2022, he’s finally gotten down to doing what he does best — undermining other Republicans and living under the delusion that his popularity extends anywhere beyond the borders of Arizona. He did it throughout much of Bush’s presidency after Bush beat him handily in the 2000 primaries. The way McCain undermines Republican presidents, coupled with his two unsuccessful presidential runs, leaves one with the distinct impression that McCain thinks the Oval Office ought to be his — even though he got trounced in 2008 and couldn’t even win the nomination in 2000.
This week, liberals are working double-time trying to delegitimize Trump in the eyes of the electors who will vote in less than a week to make the election results official, and McCain has characteristically climbed aboard. “It’s clear the Russians interfered,” he said on “Face the Nation” Sunday — even though it wasn’t as clear to the FBI or the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Now McCain wants a select committee (that he probably imagines himself chairing) and endless hearings on the subject. McCain also voiced his concern over Trump’s choice of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to head the State Department. But it’s hard to take McCain’s concern seriously when he’s been one of the most hawkish and dangerous neocons of the 21st century.
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Whenever someone has a terrible foreign policy idea, John McCain instinctively reaches for his pom-poms — so long as it involves more military intervention. Since the Iraq regime change that cost U.S. taxpayers $2 trillion, McCain has called for “regime change” in North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Libya. He’s called for boots on the ground in Syria. More boots on the ground in Iraq. In 2008, he said the war in Iraq was worth it “because we will have peace and success in the Middle East.” He’s a war hero, but his attitude toward war often seems as simple as “the more the merrier.” He’s no longer the peace-through-strength realist that Arizonans sent to the Senate in the 1980s; he’s the poster boy for neoconservative foreign adventurism, and has about $20 trillion worth of terrible ideas zipping through his head like pinballs.
John McCain has been in full-on tantrum mode since Trump was elected, and it won’t stop anytime soon. McCain is ornery and arrogant, and he’ll take shots at Trump every opportunity he can get. He’ll undermine and embarrass Trump whenever he can. He’ll embrace every anti-Trump talking point that he can get away with embracing. He’ll compare the whole Trump presidency to the perfect, fantasy-land McCain presidency that lives in his head and he’ll see nothing but fault after fault. He’ll never stop trying to sabotage Trump because Trump isn’t just a president who disagrees with him. Trump is an existential threat to his entire political philosophy and its few remaining adherents.
But none of it will matter. The Bush-McCain-Graham wing of the Republican party has produced policy failure after policy failure and strategy failure after strategy failure for years now, and it is nearing extinction. That’s part of the reason why the American people didn’t let McCain anywhere near the White House in 2008. His brand of globalist, open-borders, interventionist Republicanism is virtually nonexistent beyond the pages of The Weekly Standard. Neoconservatism has been replaced by more a populist, anti-globalist conservatism that comes with a realist foreign policy, and that actually has the power to turn blue states red.
Arizona may be sending McCain back to the Senate, but his sphere of influence is marble-sized. McCain is everything the Republican Party and the American people categorically rejected in 2016. He’s the Establishment. He’s owned by multinational corporations. He’s a globalist. He’s a handful of Trump accomplishments away from absolute extinction.
McCain is standing there, arms crossed, demanding that everything be done his way. Meanwhile, the Trump Train is barreling straight toward him and the rest of the neocon stragglers.
Eddie Zipperer is an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College.