McCain vs. Trump: A Look Back at the Feud Between America's 'Maverick' and the President

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 This combination of pictures created on August 24, 2018 shows US Senator John McCain and US President Donald Trump
This combination of pictures created on August 24, 2018 shows US Senator John McCain and US President Donald TrumpCredit: Photos by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI and MANDEL NGAN / AFP

U.S. Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who ran for president in 2008 as a self-styled maverick Republican and became a prominent critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, died on Saturday, his office said. He was 81.

McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, remained prominent during and after the last White House race as both a frequent critic and target of his fellow Republican Trump, who was elected president in November 2016.

McCain denounced Trump for, among other things, his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders the senator described as foreign "tyrants."

"Flattery secures his friendship, criticism his enmity," McCain said of Trump in his memoir, "The Restless Wave," which was released in May.

McCain castigated Trump in July for his summit with Putin, calling their joint news conference in Helsinki "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." He said Trump was "not only unable but unwilling to stand up to Putin."

In Germany, whose government has clashed with Trump over a range of issues including trade and defense, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said McCain stood for an America "that is a reliable and close partner... that takes strong responsibility for others and sticks to its values and principles even at difficult moments."

The European Union ambassador to the United States, David O'Sullivan, McCain's strong support for transatlantic cooperation should be followed as an example "in strengthening EU-U.S. ties and dealing with the challenges ahead."

French President Emmanuel Macron called McCain "a true American hero (whose).. voice will be missed" and British Prime Minister Theresa May said he "embodied the idea of service over self."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he would be "remembered both in Europe and North America for his courage and character, and as a strong supporter of NATO."

In October of 2017, McCain hit back at Trump in the latest round of an ongoing fued between the two leaders of the Republican Party. During a C-SPAN interview about the Vietnam War, in which McCain fought and was held as a prisoner of war, the senator from Arizona slammed upper-income Americans who were able to obtain a draft deferment for having a “bone spur,” while poorer Americans had no choice but to fight.

“One aspect of the (Vietnam) conflict by the way that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest income level of America and the highest income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur,” McCain said. “That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.”

McCain, who was a staunch critict of U.S. torture, announced in May his opposition to Trump’s nominee to run the CIA, Gina Haspel. On May 10th, White House special assistant Kelly Sadler reportedly reacted by saying of McCain, who is fighting brain cancer, “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.” Sadler was eventually released from her White House position, while Haspel was confirmed by the Senate.


McCain, a foreign policy hawk with a traditional Republican view of world affairs, was admired in both parties for championing civility and compromise during an era of acrid partisanship in U.S. politics. But he also had a famous temper and rarely shied away from a fight. He had several with Trump.

He was the central figure in one of the most dramatic moments in Congress of Trump's presidency when he returned to Washington shortly after his brain cancer diagnosis for a middle-of-the-night Senate vote in July 2017.

Still bearing a black eye and scar from surgery, McCain gave a thumbs-down signal in a vote to scuttle a Trump-backed bill that would have repealed the Obamacare healthcare law and increased the number of Americans without health insurance by millions.

Trump was furious about McCain's vote and frequently referred to it at rallies, without mentioning McCain by name.

After Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015, McCain condemned his hard-line rhetoric on illegal immigration and said Trump had "fired up the crazies." Trump retorted that McCain was "not a war hero," adding: "I like people who weren't captured."

After Trump became president, McCain blasted what he called the president's attempts to undermine the free press and rule of law and lamented the "half-baked, spurious nationalism" of the Trump era.


McCain, the son and grandson of U.S. Navy admirals, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona in 1982 after more than two decades of Navy service.

He served four years in the House before Arizona voters elected him to the Senate in 1986 to replace Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee revered by conservatives.

In running for president in 2008, McCain tried to succeed an unpopular fellow Republican in Bush, who was leaving office with the United States mired in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and stuck in a financial crisis.

It was a stark contrast between McCain, then a 72-year-old veteran of the Washington establishment, and the 47-year-old Obama, who was offering a "Yes, we can" message of change.

McCain tried to inject some youth and enthusiasm into his campaign with his selection of Palin, Alaska's governor, as his running mate. But her political inexperience and shaky performances in media interviews raised concerns about her qualifications.

McCain voiced regret in his new memoir for not choosing then-Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, as his running mate.

Obama won 53 percent of the vote to McCain's 45.6 percent.

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