Mainstream media members “would criticize” President Donald Trump even if he “put out a flowery statement” thanking the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for his service to the nation and praising him as a war hero, former White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short said Monday on CNN’s “New Day.”
“The president did express his condolences to the family” in his statement on Twitter, Short said. “I think that it’s a little bit of a situation of a ‘Catch-22,’ because … if the president put out a flowery statement about John McCain’s life, the media would criticize it and say it is not consistent with the other things he’s said in the past and it would become a story about the president.”
Short said, “The best thing the president can be doing right now is allow the family its opportunity to celebrate his life and to mourn his loss, and to not inject the president into this. So the media’s looking to bring the president into this. I think it’s actually respectful for the president to give it space and distance and to allow the family its opportunity to celebrate John McCain’s life.”
McCain died Saturday after battling brain cancer for a year.
He was a Navy pilot and spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam’s “Hanoi Hilton” hellhole. McCain served in the Senate for more than 30 years and became the 2008 Republican presidential nominee against President Barack Obama.
Trump and McCain had a tense and often hostile relationship spanning from Trump’s campaign and into his presidency.
Shortly after news of McCain’s death broke, Trump tweeted, “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!”
My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2018
Many of the president’s critics emphasized that Trump’s tweet included no praise for McCain himself and no gratitude for his service to the nation. The Washington Post reported that Trump shot down the idea of issuing an official statement honoring McCain’s legacy and service.
But Short argued that the president’s public sentiments were in keeping with the nature of the Trump-McCain relationship — even though CNN anchor John Berman sought to trap him.
After Short praised McCain and thanked him for his service, Berman said, “You, Marc Short, are not the president of the United States. The person who is the president of the United States could not find it in himself to say any of those words that you have just said. Are you disappointed by the president rejecting a fulsome statement of gratitude to Sen. John McCain?”
Short highlighted that Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, among others, “all issued statements that would have been approved by the president before they went out.”
“He did send his sympathy to the family, but you’re saying it is more respectful somehow to the legacy of John McCain for the president not to thank him for his service?” Berman wondered.
Short replied, “What I’m saying is it’s most respectful if the media keeps the focus of this on John McCain’s life rather than making this about President Trump. And I think that that’s where we should be focused — celebrating John McCain’s life.”
Berman argued that Trump “is not celebrating John McCain’s life.”
“And I understand what you’re saying. The two have a history,” Berman said. “When someone passes, it is generally an expression of humanity. This isn’t about politics. This is about being a human being with feelings to express gratitude, particularly for someone who led the life the likes of which John McCain led.”
Although Short said he shared Berman’s praise and gratitude for McCain, he still insisted that Trump is “in a position that if he puts out something that is considered inconsistent with statements the two of them have had back and forth, the media will make that a different story. And right now, I think it’s appropriate to keep the focus on John McCain and his family.”
“Mr. President, do you have any thoughts on John McCain?”
Nevertheless, White House reporters repeatedly barraged Trump throughout the day, demanding that he tell them whether he thought McCain was a hero.
“Mr. President, do you have any thoughts on John McCain? Do you have any thoughts at all about John McCain? Do you believe John McCain was a hero, sir? Nothing at all about John McCain? OK,” ABC News’ Jon Karl shouted at Trump Monday as the president met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.