McCain And The Midterms: How Memory Of The Maverick Could Affect The GOP
U.S. Senator and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain, known for his legacy as a bold and steadfast P.O.W. during the Vietnam War, passed away at age 81 on Saturday night. Known as “the maverick” for his willingness to buck the Republican Party establishment, the straight-talking Arizonian ran for President twice and was not afraid to criticize whomever occupied the Oval Office. As bipartisan accolades pour out for the war hero and veteran politician, many watch and wait to see how his memory will affect the 2018 midterms.
Embattled by the recent findings of guilt against former advisers Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump may find his critics emboldened by the abrupt passage of McCain. Senator McCain and Donald Trump famously feuded beginning in 2015, when then-candidate Trump questioned McCain’s widespread status as a war hero. Although Trump’s criticism of McCain received quick condemnation, it did not sink the billionaire’s campaign the way many predicted. Thus began a contentious relationship between the two Republican titans, with McCain making headlines for voting against Trump’s Obamacare repeal in 2017.
Only a handful of Republican [public] Trump critics remain in the Senate: Senators Jeff Flake (AZ), who is retiring, Lindsey Graham (SC), Dean Heller (NV), Rand Paul (KY), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Susan Collins (ME). The remembrance of McCain may prompt these critics of the President to renew their opposition to his controversial behavior and policy proposals.
McCain remained critical of Trump until the end, and that steadfastness may inspire other anti-Trump Republicans, who have grown wary of his power to rally his base during primaries, to keep up the fight.
Trump himself is under the microscope when it comes to McCain’s death. While the commander-in-chief has tweeted his condolences, the media may be waiting for more. Smarting over the Cohen/Manafort brouhaha, Trump can hardly afford to spout off angry missives about John McCain.
Though the President remains solidly popular among his base, a bipartisan figure like McCain carries lots of clout among pro-defense independents. Donald Trump dissing McCain could hurt the GOP in the midterms by turning off moderate and independent voters, especially if other Republicans remain silent.
With the Democratic Party planning to run a wave of military veterans in the midterms, McCain’s death opens a window for pro-military Democrats to appeal to swing voters. Vocally honoring the memory of John McCain could garner some goodwill for veteran Dems and perhaps swing some crucial votes. With pro-Trumpers having grown used to sneering at McCain, plenty of room exists for hawkish Democrats to swoop in from the left and make inroads among “McCain Moderates.”
A possible wild card opportunity for the Democrats would be for former President Jimmy Carter, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy several years before John McCain, to deliver the Senator’s eulogy at Annapolis.
Calvin Wolf is a Lead Contributor for theDailyLead.