WASHINGTON – It got off to a bad start, and President Donald Trump’s venomous relationship with Sen. John McCain probably won’t end well either.
The president was reportedly disinvited to McCain’s funeral months ago, after McCain’s battle with brain cancer took a turn for the worse, and now the veteran Arizona Republican senator has decided to discontinue medical treatment.
Throughout McCain’s illness, Trump has continued to publicly snub him — including a recent appearance in which the president declined to say McCain’s name when signing a bill that was named for him. As of Saturday, Trump had said nothing about McCain’s medical decision.
Trump does not want to comment on McCain before he dies, White House officials said.
Their increasingly combative relationship has served as a metaphor of sorts for the Republican Party: the former Vietnam POW and “proud conservative” who fell short to Barack Obama in his run for president in 2008 vs. the loud draft avoider who rapidly seized control of the GOP and White House eight years later.
McCain rarely disguised his distaste for Trump as the real estate developer ran for president on a platform that included attacks on immigrants and U.S. allies. In July 2015, after then-candidate Trump rallied an estimated 15,000 in Phoenix and claimed to represent a “silent majority,” McCain said Trump had “fired up the crazies” in his state. The battle was on.
By the end of that month, Trump had disparaged McCain’s Vietnam War service, saying McCain was “not a war hero” despite spending more than five years as a POW and enduring torture.
“He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said during a forum in Ames, Iowa.
Trump refused to apologize and has never retracted the statement.
McCain did eventually endorse Trump in 2016, then withdrew his support weeks before the election after release of an “Access Hollywood” tape where Trump is recorded bragging about assaulting women.
Trump’s immediate and angry response: “The very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain begged for my support during his primary (I gave, he won), then dropped me over locker room remarks!”
In office, McCain has supported much of Trump’s economic and national security agenda, despite his misgivings about Trump’s dismissive approach to traditional U.S. alliances.
But McCain crossed the White House last year over the GOP attempt to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and Trump has never forgiven him. After the vote, Trump said McCain voted no out of a personal vendetta against him and that he would never vote yes to something that helped Trump.
He repeatedly told advisers that McCain should step down from the seat and let the Republican governor appoint another senator.
In July, McCain pilloried Trump for his chummy performance alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a news conference in Helsinki.
“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain said. “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
Trump said nothing in response. As McCain spends his final days in Arizona, aides say, Trump is inclined to still say nothing at all.