Every living president issued statements on Saturday night commemorating John McCain upon the announcement of his passing. Two of them – Barack Obama and George W. Bush – were former presidential rivals to the Arizona Republican, which didn’t stop them from venerating the senator for his lifetime of service and sacrifice.
The current president, however, chose a different course.
President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences to the family of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain on Saturday night, just over an hour after the revered prisoner of war and longtime elected official died.
“My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!” Trump wrote….
While the presidential well wishes for McCain’s family were certainly appropriate, Trump made no mention of McCain himself. Those looking for a more detailed and more thoughtful statement from the Trump White House were left wanting: Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders alerted reporters to the president’s 21-word tweet, but that was it.
According to the Washington Post, several officials in the West Wing recommended the release of an official statement that applauded McCain’s heroic service – it was pre-written in preparation for the senator’s demise – but Trump personally “nixed” it. The president, according to the Post’s reporting, “told aides he wanted to post a brief tweet instead, and the statement praising McCain’s life was not released.”
The New York Times added, “The president did not make even the most cursory public show of respect on Sunday for Mr. McCain.”
It’s worth emphasizing that First Lady Melania Trump published a tweet that thanked McCain for his “service to the nation,” and Vice President Mike Pence had a tweet of his own honoring McCain’s “lifetime of service to this nation in our military and in public life.” There were similar statements from current and former U.S. leaders from both parties, as well as commemorations from officials abroad.
But this made it all the more striking that Trump couldn’t bring himself to say something – anything, really – about the late senator. The president published an item to his Instagram account with the same text as his tweet, but it featured a photograph of himself, not McCain.
This comes just two weeks after the GOP president signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act into law, while appearing to carefully avoid any mention of the senator the bill was named for.
A few hours later. Trump headlined a fundraiser, where he did what he nearly always does at these events: he whined about McCain’s vote last year against the Republican health care plan.
The rhetoric was familiar. Trump has headlined a variety of political events over the last couple of months, and in nearly every instance, he’s taken some time to single out McCain for criticism. See, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
The fact that McCain voted with Trump’s position about 83% of the time wasn’t good enough.
In case this isn’t obvious, it would’ve cost Trump nothing if the White House had issued a dignified written statement celebrating McCain’s life. The president wouldn’t have had to write it, read it, or even agree with it. The statement would’ve made Trump appear gracious toward an occasional critic.
But the small, petty man in the Oval Office just couldn’t bring himself to even pretend to be dignified.