Trump vs. McCain

Mark Steyn has tackled the issues between John McCain and Donald Trump, and has a bit of insight into the character of the poor war vet that Trump so maligned.

On the matter of McCain, in June 1998 the Senator stood up to address a Republican fundraising meeting: "You think that was a tasteless joke?" he began, referring to the previous speaker's closing Viagra gag. "Listen to this one." He then told the following side-splitter:

"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?

"Because her real father's Janet Reno."

Rimshot. In just twelve words, Senator McCain insulted not the President himself but the three women closest to him (officially, that is): he said the kid's a dog, the First Lady's an adulterous lesbian, and the Attorney-General's an unconvincing transvestite.

Is this as bad as mocking a guy's 40-year-old military service? Well, it's certainly ungallant. From the perspective of 2015, I have no respect whatsoever for any of the trio, but I would not mock their looks, orientation or alleged possession of male genitalia. At the time young Chelsea had just turned 18. Is it more disreputable for a grown man to insult in public a rich, powerful senator's war record than a teenage girl's looks? Whatever the answer, a chap who's done the latter has no business complaining about the former.
It's an interesting side note, and definitely one of the things worth attacking about McCain. At the very least, it's a rather novel defense of Trump that calls into question McCain's moral outrage over Trump's captured war hero comments. I personally prefer the one that far-left extremist Senator Al Franken made almost the exact same comments about McCain years ago (which, as is the pathetic oaf's trademark, he tries passing off as a joke from his comedian side rather than his serious side, even though the source wasn't a comedy routine but a political essay). It turns out that it's a common thing to attack John McCain over: apparently a lot of servicemen aren't impressed by the John McCain war bio either.

The thing is, there are a lot of things to attack about both John McCains, both John McCain the military serviceman and John McCain the politician. The problem is, especially in a warrior culture like the United States, you have to be very very careful which one of them you're attacking and why, and also who you are. For better or worse, particularly on the American right, you aren't allowed to criticize anybody's military record unless you were in the army as well and had a better record. This is why the right dismissed most attacks on George W. Bush's (pbuh) record in the Texas National Guard, and it took a collection of John Kerry's fellow Swift Boat crewmen to launch the famous attack that denounced his service record. No matter how bad John McCain the solider was, the knee-jerk defense from American conservatives against any non-solider making an attack on him precludes it. You just can't do it. Sorry, Donald.

That shouldn't, however, dissuade anybody from attacking John McCain the RINO who was an absolute disaster as a politician. It also shouldn't be an issue to attack John McCain for living on the coattails of his service record for as long as he has. In certain respects, like when President Monkey tried calling McCain out of touch for not using modern technology (McCain avoids keyboards because of his injuries as a prisoner of war), the war record explains the political record. But not in general. Being tortured by the North Vietnamese doesn't explain why McCain supported President Monkey's push for illegal immigrant amnesty (the very issue that caused Trump and McCain to butt heads), a horrible plan that no sane politician had any business supporting. Being shot out of his airplane isn't justification for not speaking out against the IRS harassment of conservatives.

John McCain has a lot of issues. Like, a lot. He comes across as a social conservative of convenience, quick to admonish laws both banning fake faggot weddings and laws forcing them upon states, but with literally no legislative record to back it up. He's obviously strong on military procurement, but he's also strong on expanding the welfare state particularly in regards to Medicare and voting against the George W. Bush (pbuh) tax cuts. He's a squishy RINO in general, and his main contribution in the 2008 election was to (pace Steyn) lose gracefully and get glowing New York Times profiles written about him.

Which, naturally, leads back to the meat in the Steyn piece.
Two decades back, the media loved McCain because he was their kind of Republican: that's to say, he spent more time attacking other Republicans than he ever did Democrats. And they wanted him to keep on doing that, so they closed ranks around him. Whereas no one wants what Trump wants to talk about to be part of the 2016 election conversation, so anything must be seized on to disqualify him from participation. And, if nothing else is to hand, a sneer at John McCain will have to do.

The thing is McCain's Chelsea Clinton gag is not untypical. Anyone who's "worked with Senator McCain" in the Senate these last gazillion years knows he has a short fuse. In late 1999, attacking as is his wont his fellow Republican, he told Senate budget committee chairman Pete Domenici that "only an asshole would put together a budget like this". Domenici rose to his feet and said, with wounded dignity, that in all his years in the Senate no one had ever called him that.
Steyn notes that John McCain the politician is in fact John McCain the "wealthy career politician", another Beltway insider who managed to build up a ridiculously high net worth on a $174,000 annual salary. He's also got a notorious mean streak, a sketchy policy record, and a tendency to use his POW years as a shield whenever the questions get too difficult.

Exactly. There are a lot of issues with McCain. I named some. Steyn named some.

The problem is that Donald Trump didn't name some.

As I noted above, he tried attacking the soldier. Whether the soldier's record warrants an attack or not is beside the point, it simply cannot be done. The left won't let you attack Senator Sean Patrick Maloney for being a fudge packer, the right won't let you attack John McCain for being a POW who may or may not have collaborated with the enemy and caused the 1967 USS Forrestal fire. (Note even this article discussed how "pained" the veterans are to be defending a draft dodger versus one of their own).

Steyn also notes (right from the start) that the Trump vs. McCain fight indicates the problems with the GOP nomination race that Trump keeps inconveniently highlighting: that it's too much "inside baseball" and not enough about the real government policies and actions that will hurt or help American citizens and which candidate favours which. Trump was for a while avoiding that by trying to talk about the issues, even though it was in his usual style. This time though, his attack on McCain comes across as a cheap shot.
As his criminal-immigrant surge demonstrates, Trump's support comes almost entirely from Americans who feel the political class passes its time talking about nothing that matters to them. So feel free to spend the weekend talking about John McCain. QED, as Trump is unlikely to say.
John McCain doesn't embody the grand variety and diversity of America's warriors; John McCain embodies John McCain: That's it. So, when the Republican establishment spends two news cycles huffing about the amour propre of a wealthy career politician, they're only reinforcing Trump's critique: that the GOP is a party of "losers" and "failures" obsessed with peripheral trivia nobody else cares about, while ignoring everything that's killing your future.
The problem Steyn misses is that Trump himself was talking about John McCain, specifically the war veteran John McCain. Even if 95% of what Trump said was about the issues, the 5% about Lieutenant Commander McCain was surely what the media would jump on. It's a long way to November 2016, if Trump isn't better at navigating that he'll be the worse losing Republican candidate for President since...well, since John McCain. The GOP may be guilty of circling the wagons, but at least this time they may actually have cause to do so.

Bonus John McCain reading: His (slightly redacted) 1974 article into the POW experience and recommendations for changes to the U.S. Military Code of Conduct.