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Trump’s Condolences Bookend Complicated Relationship With McCain

President went from supporting McCain to trashing him to refusing to acknowledge him

Will Simms, Newseum graphics specialist, posts The Arizona Republic’s front page at the Newseum’s front-page display on Sunday, the day after Sen. John McCain died. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Will Simms, Newseum graphics specialist, posts The Arizona Republic’s front page at the Newseum’s front-page display on Sunday, the day after Sen. John McCain died. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump’s tweet sending condolences after Sen. John McCain’s death bookended a relationship that began with support but ended with contempt.

Trump tweeted that his “deepest sympathies and respect go out” to the Arizona Republican’s family. 

But just a few weeks before McCain’s death, Trump did not mention him when signing the defense authorization bill that bore the senator’s name

When McCain announced Friday he would stop seeking treatment for the brain cancer diagnosis he received in July of last year, Trump was silent.

The silence followed by a muffled condolence is symbolic of the volatile relationship McCain and Trump had throughout Trump’s foray into politics.

Trump endorsed McCain during the latter’s run for president in a 2008 interview on CNN and seemed to cut McCain some slack at the time.

“He’s being blamed for the Bush economy, and I’m not sure that he should be blamed,” he told Wolf Blitzer at the time, with only a few weeks left in the general election. Trump was referring  to the 2008 financial crisis in the final year of George W. Bush’s presidency. 

An analysis by Roll Call found that before Trump assumed the presidency, McCain was the top recipient of Trump’s campaign contributions among sitting members of Congress.

But Trump’s tone toward McCain changed during the real estate mogul’s own presidential candidacy in 2015.

As one of the chief Republicans who supported a comprehensive immigration overhaul, McCain was an easy target for the man who began his race by saying Mexico was sending drug dealers, criminals and rapists.

That led Trump to infamously say that McCain was “a war hero because he was captured,” in reference to McCain being a prisoner of war while serving in Vietnam.

“I like people that weren’t captured,” Trump said in Iowa at the time.

The remarks were the type that would sink a normal candidate but seemed to buoy Trump’s bid.

He continued to lay into McCain, calling him a “dummy” for graduating last in his class in Annapolis. In fact, McCain graduated fifth from the bottom of his class.

Trump also changed his tune on McCain being blamed for Bush’s mistakes when he tweeted that McCain “let us down by losing to Barack Obama in his run for President.”

McCain would later endorse Trump’s candidacy, but when an “Access Hollywood” video tape of Trump making remarks about groping women surfaced, McCain un-endorsed the candidate.

In response, Trump accused McCain of hypocrisy in the days after the tape leaked.

“The very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain begged for my support during his primary,” he tweeted at the time.

When Trump won, McCain largely voted in line with the newly elected president, praising his selection of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

But McCain occasionally bucked Trump, voting against his choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, and the Office of U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer.

McCain also drew on his experience as a POW in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” when he announced his opposition to Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA because of her overseeing of torture during the Bush administration.

At the time, McCain was at home in Arizona receiving treatment for the brain cancer that he was diagnosed with in July 2017.

It was in the weeks after his diagnosis that McCain gave perhaps his most famous dissent against the Trump administration, when he voted against the repeal of the 2010 health care law.

The now famous thumbs-down vote and opposition to a subsequent attempt to repeal the law led to Trump frequently criticizing McCain on Twitter, saying Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer “sold John McCain a bill of goods.” 

Watch: John McCain Casts His Decisive Vote Against the GOP Health Care Bill

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“He campaigned on Repeal & Replace,” Trump said in another tweet. “Let Arizona down!”

But McCain would vote in favor of the tax cut legislation that Trump signed last December.

McCain would largely remain inactive after the tax cut vote but would occasionally release statements vocally criticizing Trump’s remarks that were complimentary to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

When Trump appeared to believe Putin’s words versus those of the intelligence community when it came to Russian interference in the 2016 election, McCain excoriated the president.

“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” he said in a July statement. “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.”

Watch: A Life in the Public Eye: A Look Back at McCain’s Congressional Career

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