It’s safe to say Donald Trump and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have an uneasy relationship. It was almost exactly a year ago that the Republican presidential candidate said of McCain, “He’s not a war hero…. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, okay?”
And yet, the Arizona senator has been consistent, maintaining his support for his party’s nominee, no matter how far Trump went. Today, McCain rebuked the Republican presidential hopeful once more, using unusually stark terms.
John McCain rebuked Donald Trump on Monday for his recent comments about Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a slain U.S. soldier, challenging the GOP nominee to “set the example for what our country can and should represent.”“Arizona is watching,” Sen. McCain said in a lengthy statement. “It is time for Donald Trump to set the example for our country and the future of the Republican Party. While our Party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”
The entire statement, which is fairly long, is available online here.
It’s a rather robust condemnation. “In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents,” McCain said of Khizr and Ghazala Khan. “He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States – to say nothing of entering its service. I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.”
McCain added, “Lastly, I’d like to say to Mr. and Mrs. Khan: thank you for immigrating to America. We’re a better country because of you. And you are certainly right; your son was the best of America, and the memory of his sacrifice will make us a better nation – and he will never be forgotten.”
It all sounds quite encouraging, right up until one notices what’s missing: the part in which McCain withdraws his support for Trump’s candidacy. It’s the part that doesn’t exist.
This has been a problem for Republicans for many months. Every time Trump takes his campaign in an indefensible direction, some GOP leaders will publicly register their dissatisfaction. This, in turn, leads to the inevitable question of whether those Republicans still want Trump to be elected president of the United States.
The answer is always the same: Yes. Sometimes it’s explicit (“Trump is the best available choice”) and sometimes it’s implicit (“I will support my party’s nominee”), but either way, the real #NeverTrump contingent among congressional Republicans remains quite small.
And at least for now, John McCain isn’t joining.
Maybe it’s the result of the senator’s concerns about his primary challenge in Arizona this year. Maybe his loyalty to the GOP is so strong, he believes partisanship must trump principle.
Either way, no matter how strong his condemnations of Trump’s antics, so long as McCain wants Americans to put Trump in the Oval Office, his rebukes will come with an asterisk.
Update: The full McCain statement wasn’t originally online. I’ve updated the above text to note that it’s since been published by his team.