WASHINGTON – Amid the weekend’s outpouring of tributes to Sen. John McCain, President Donald Trump’s brief, 21-word tweet spoke volumes.
Since the start of his presidential campaign in 2015, when he said McCain’s more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam didn’t make him a war hero, Trump hasn’t liked McCain. “I like people who weren’t captured,” he said then.
The feeling was mutual. McCain complained in 2015 that Trump “fired up the crazies” in his home state of Arizona over illegal immigration. A month before the election, McCain withdrew his support after Trump was caught on tape speaking in lewd fashion about assaulting women.
Over the years, Trump called McCain “very weak” on immigration, “foul-mouthed” and “a dummy.” McCain has referred to the president as “poorly informed,” “impulsive” and a proponent of “spurious, half-baked nationalism.”
Any hope of rapprochement was dashed last year when McCain cast the deciding vote against the president’s plan to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law. Trump regularly castigated the senator at political rallies after that, imitating McCain’s famous thumbs-down vote.
In recent months, the enmity between the two Republicans only intensified. McCain decided Trump should not be invited to his funeral, where Obama and former President George W. Bush are expected to speak, according to The New York Times.
When Trump met with and praised Russian President Vladimir Putin in July, even inviting him to the White House, McCain had had enough. He called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain said at the time.
Just two weeks ago, Trump signed a defense authorization bill named for McCain without uttering the senator’s name. He had criticized McCain’s leadership on veterans issues.
Trump’s tweet Saturday said: “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!” There was no comment on McCain the war hero, six-term senator or presidential nominee.
On Sunday, the only way to read Trump’s mind on McCain was by omission. Flags over the White House were lowered to half-staff but without any proclamation. No formal statement about McCain’s death was delivered.
Instead, the president tweeted about the strong economy and retweeted his disdain for the Justice Department, the FBI and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Then he went to his golf club in Sterling, Virginia.
The reactions from others in the administration were warmer toward McCain, who died Saturday at 81 after a year-long battle with brain cancer.
“Our thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathy to the McCain Family. Thank you Senator McCain for your service to the nation,” first lady Melania Trump tweeted.
“Karen and I send our deepest condolences to Cindy and the entire McCain family on the passing of Senator John McCain. We honor his lifetime of service to this nation in our military and in public life. His family and friends will be in our prayers. God bless John McCain,” Vice President Pence tweeted.
McCain, known for his fierce independence and willingness to reach across the aisle, earned praise immediately after his death from former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders alike.
“John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order,” said Bush, who defeated McCain to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. “He was a public servant in the finest traditions of our country. And to me, he was a friend whom I’ll deeply miss.”
Obama, who defeated McCain for the presidency eight years later, said: “Few of us have been tested the way John once was or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means.”
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