In 2010, establishment Republican blood was everywhere.
After the nation had chosen a liberal, black former college professor with a suspiciously foreign name to be president of the entire United States, conservatives were convinced mainstream Republicans were the root of the problem. They went after perceived establishment politicians with a vengeance. Future failed White House candidates Rand Paul and Marco Rubio won Senate seats after handily disposing of the GOP’s hand-picked candidates in primary elections.
The man who lost to Barack Obama in 2008 had a target on his back, too. John McCain had always styled himself as the maverick of the GOP, willing to buck the party when matters of principle arose.
But McCain’s response to his Tea Party primary challenge in 2010 was a massive lurch to the right. He disavowed old stances and even declared he’d never truly been a maverick. And a man who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform put out a TV ad in which he told a right-wing sheriff he’d “complete the dang fence.” The sheriff reassured him, “Senator, you’re one of us.” Everyone in Arizona knew who “us” was.
He won reelection handily (his main primary opponent turned out to be a feckless goofball), but he never did get around to building that fence. Six years later, a certain cretinous, pulsating orange sore of a human being has managed to parlay the idea of that same fence — but now a wall; in fact, the greatest, most beautiful wall ever built — into a successful run for the Republican presidential nomination.
It’s not just the wall, of course. Donald Trump has built his campaign on a strong foundation of racism and misogyny. He wants to ban Muslims from entering the country. He’s planning mass deportations and has called Mexicans “rapists.” He honestly seems to believe women are some kind of inhuman species meant to serve him personally.
This has created a huge problem for Republicans running for down-ballot offices, especially in U.S. Senate races. And six years after his “build the dang wall” campaign, McCain is one of them.
According to a report in Politico, McCain knows Trump is a problem for his reelection. “If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket,” he told the audience at a private fundraiser, “here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life.”
He’s right about that. But does he know it’s his own damn fault? When the Tea Party came with their pitchforks and torches to storm the castle of mainstream Republicanism, career politicians like McCain were awfully quick to embrace the ugliest side of their party.
McCain had some experience with this, of course. He introduced a thirsty nation to Sarah Palin two years earlier, and she’d rise to be the celebrity queen id of the Tea Party. Her endorsement this year of Trump was as natural as the words “right-wingin’, bitter-clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religions and our Constitution” spilling from her mouth.
McCain gave America Palin, the ur-Trump, and followed that up by telling us we have to build a fence to keep out immigrants. He didn’t invent the ugly strain of racism bubbling through his party, but he certainly didn’t have a problem stoking it when it was politically convenient for him to do so.
Now he may pay the price, and he knows it. Donald Trump’s nomination could easily put Arizona into play in the White House race, which means money, staff and volunteers driving out the vote, potentially costing McCain his seat. If the race looks competitive, Democrats will flood the state with ads tying him to Trump — through Palin, through the wall, and yes, through his own endorsement.
The solution for McCain should be simple: Disavow Trump. Hell, Trump made it easy for him. In a campaign marked by ugly statements, one of his ugliest was his “I like people who didn’t get captured” insult to McCain’s time as a prisoner of war. (Trump managed to stay stateside during Vietnam through a series of deferments.) If McCain had any decency or pride left, that remark alone would be enough to justify staying out of the presidential race this time around.
But the John McCain who nominated Sarah Palin to a heartbeat away from the presidency, who wanted to build the dang fence, that’s the real John McCain. And that John McCain is supporting Donald Trump for the presidency because he’s no maverick. He never was. He’s a party loyalist whose occasional nod toward independence disappeared with the blowing of the conservative winds.
He blew right along with the best of them, and the conflagration that followed left Donald Trump the undisputed leader of the Republican Party. It might cost John McCain his seat, but he only has himself to blame.