John McCain has been hammering Donald Trump at home and abroad, assailing his foreign policy incoherence and his dire threats against the media. But many liberals, who should be happy to have McCain as an ally, are nonetheless disdainful — because McCain himself isn’t a liberal.
This is a foolish attitude.
Alas, it’s also a predictable attitude. All too often, liberals opt to go hungry rather than accept half a loaf. Which is a big reason why Hillary Clinton lost, and why they’re stuck fuming about Trump.
I understand their beefs with McCain. It goes way back. McCain bucked the GOP establishment by running as a “maverick” against George W. Bush in 2000. But after opposing Bush on tax cuts and campaign finance reform, he veered rightward to run against Barack Obama in 2008. Indeed, he has veered rightward in his Senate re-election campaigns. He did so again last year. Now that he has been rehired, he deems it politically safe to go after Trump.
I get all that. But when McCain goes abroad to address our allies, allies listen. Here’s what he said last Friday at the Munich Security Conference:
Led by America, the westerners who built the post-war European alliance “would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood, and race, and sectarianism. They would be alarmed by the hardening resentment we see toward immigrants, and refugees, and minority groups, especially Muslims. They would be alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies. They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent…That is the definition of decadence. And that is how world orders really do decline and fall.”
You don’t need a degree from Trump University to divine who McCain was talking about.
Then, on Sunday, McCain surfaced on “Meet The Press” to rebuke Trump for sliming journalists as enemies of the people:
“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started. They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power. When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”
And McCain said this:
“All this business with Vladimir Putin is very disturbing to all of us. To equate Vladimir Putin and the United States of America, as he was asked, you know, I guess it was Bill O’Reilly who said, ‘But Putin is a killer.’ And he basically said, ‘So are we.’ That moral equivalency is a contradiction of everything the United States has ever stood for in the 20th and 21st century.”
You’d think that Trump’s liberal foes would welcome help from McCain – especially now, when virtually all Republicans on Capitol Hill have had their spines surgically removed. Yes, he waxes and wanes with his mavericky ways, but this is arguably a time when Trump resisters need friends from all quarters. Right?
Wrong. Because McCain has voted for nearly every Trump Cabinet nominee. That’s an F on the liberal litmus test.
According to one liberal complainant (the headline should tip you off to the ‘tude), “McCain was and always had been a mostly unremarkable party-line Republican, whose obvious discomfort with the far-right was not actually supported by the backbone necessary to challenge the far-right. Now, with a deranged Republican president and a wholly Republican Congress, McCain will once again try to paint himself as a voice of reason and a courageous truth-teller, while not actually doing anything.”
But strong coalitions are built by welcoming people with whom one disagrees. That’s Politics 101. And McCain can’t nudge other Republicans toward Trump-skepticism unless he keeps his Republican creds in order. That’s common sense.
I’ll cede the last word to Steve Rosenthal, a veteran Democratic and labor activist. On Facebook yesterday, he said:
“We need Republicans to begin to stand up to Trump. A senior member like McCain doing it opens the door for others. I loathe all of Trump’s cabinet picks, but measuring McCain’s willingness to stand up – or any other R for that matter – by their votes to confirm their president’s nominees is ludicrous. I want them to pick and choose their fights carefully.
“Going to Europe and challenging Trump’s worldview, then going on national TV and challenging his campaign to destroy our democracy by undermining freedom of speech, is smart, strategic, courageous and bold. I’ve never been a fan of McCain’s, but we are going to need Republicans to step up if we’re going to stop this madness.”
On the upside:
It’s a great relief that a respected officer, Lt. General H.R. McMaster, has agreed to serve as national security adviser. This gives us a fighting chance to defeat the Sweden-Australian-Mexican Axis.