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As McCain becomes a GOP target, White House aide mocks senator's health

It's worth understanding what it is, exactly, that made John McCain such a target among Republicans.
In this April 28, 2016 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)
In this April 28, 2016 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

The first sign of trouble came on Monday. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), facing serious ailments that are keeping him from Capitol Hill, reportedly made clear that he doesn't want Donald Trump at his funeral. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called McCain's position "ridiculous," inexplicably touted the president as "a very good man," and urged the Arizonan to reconsider.

Hatch later apologized for his bizarre recommendations, but it now appears to have been the first in a series of dominoes.

Yesterday, for example, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a "Fox News Insider," mocked McCain's concerns about Gina Haspel's torture background, insisting that torture "worked" on McCain when he was a North Vietnamese prisoner of war.

A few hours later, it was apparently a White House staffer's turn.

A top White House communications aide made fun of Sen. John McCain's brain cancer diagnosis on Thursday, sources with direct knowledge said -- comments that enraged the senator's wife.The comments, which were first reported by The Hill, a Washington political newspaper, came during a meeting a day after McCain, R-Ariz., announced that he was opposing the nomination of Gina Haspel to be permanent director of the CIA."He's dying anyway," said Kelly Sadler the White House's director of surrogate and coalitions outreach, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the meeting.

The White House didn't deny any of this, and Sadler reportedly reached out to the senator's family to apologize.

Whatever my concerns about McCain's record as a lawmaker -- and as regular readers know, I have many -- it's tough to defend these offensive outbursts as the Arizona Republican struggles with a health crisis. It's all the more reason to wonder what it is, exactly, that made McCain such a target.

My fear is that this is part of a partisan backlash fueled by insufficient fealty to Donald Trump.

Given how often McCain has voted with the president's position, this seems counter-intuitive. The senator may be seen by some as a frequent Trump critic, but when it comes to actually casting votes on the Senate floor, he's sided with Trump 83% of the time.

But in contemporary Republican politics, that's apparently not nearly enough. McCain also has to welcome Trump at his own funeral. And endorse all of Trump's nominees, regardless of merit.

We're apparently seeing the penalty for insufficient fealty to the Republican president.