In the wake of John McCain’s passing two years ago, Donald Trump made no real effort to hide his contempt for the late senator, taking cheap and unnecessary shots at the Arizona Republican for months. Congressional Republicans begged the president to stop. As regular readers know, he ignored the appeals.
In private, the president's antics may have been even worse. Jeffrey Goldberg's blockbuster piece in The Atlantic covered a lot of important ground, including peeling back the curtain on Trump's reaction to McCain's death.
Trump remained fixated on McCain, one of the few prominent Republicans to continue criticizing him after he won the nomination. When McCain died, in August 2018, Trump told his senior staff, according to three sources with direct knowledge of this event, “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” and he became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. “What the f**k are we doing that for? Guy was a f**king loser,” the president told aides.
All of this, of course, followed Trump denigrating McCain's military heroism in 2015, when the then-candidate rejected the idea that McCain was a hero. "I like people that weren’t captured, okay?” Trump said five years ago.
In a multi-part Twitter thread last night, the president conceded he was "never a big fan" of McCain, whom Trump said failed "in dealing with the VA." The president added, however, that he "never called John a loser."
There's a lot to this, but let's briefly unpack the demonstrable absurdity of Trump's denial.
First, it's kind of amusing to see the president, even now, disparage McCain's record on dealing with veterans' issues. In reality, McCain co-authored a Veterans' Choice bill, which Barack Obama signed into law in 2014, and which Trump routinely tries to take credit for because, well, just because.
Second, Trump's insistence that he never called McCain a "loser" is belied by Trump's own record. It took about 10 seconds on the Trump Twitter Archive to find a tweet in which Trump described McCain as a "loser" about a month after launching his 2016 candidacy.
He also said, "I don't like losers" while smearing McCain's military service in 2015.
And finally, in last night's Twitter thread, the president suggested he was proud to honor McCain after the senator's passing. It led Miles Taylor, a former top official in Trump's Department of Homeland Security, to respond soon after, "Mr. President, this is not true. You were angry that DHS notified federal buildings to lower the flags for Sen. McCain. I would know because your staff called and told me."
Trump wants people to believe his denial about The Atlantic article. The fact that his McCain-related claims are obviously untrue makes his larger task that much more difficult.