John McCain merits praise for his public statement today, blasting Donald Trump’s attacks on the Muslim American parents of a U.S. Army captain who died a hero in Iraq. As you probably know, Khizr Khan’s dramatic Democratic Convention speech honoring his son and slamming Trump sparked a bitter dispute with him about bigotry and sacrifice.
Nevertheless, McCain’s statement was both bizarre and revealing about the contortions that leading Republicans are going through as they stand with Trump, even as they stand against so much that he stands for. McCain’s strangest line was this: “I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.”
Huh? Donald Trump is the top candidate and de facto head of the Republican Party. How can his remarks not represent the Party?
I don’t mean to tar most Republicans with Trump’s bigoted brush. But Senator McCain, if you’re not against him, then you’re with him. And being against him means more than rejecting the man’s words. It means renouncing your endorsement of him and rejecting Trump himself.
It also means that McCain needs to stop promoting the notion that Donald Trump can pivot away from his hateful positions and pronouncements, and suddenly become fit for the presidency. Yet his statement keeps pushing that line: “It is time for Donald Trump to set the example for our country and the future of the Republican Party.”
Too late. We know what the man is. Dozens and dozens of lies, insults, racist rants and sexist statements won’t be reversed by some semblance of a more positive example from Donald Trump – assuming he could even find it in his soul to set it. McCain’s statement is revealing, then, in that it reflects the self-serving Republican fallacy that somehow Trump can still redeem himself.
Now, one can understand why McCain won’t un-endorse Trump. He faces both a tough primary and then a tough general election contest. Like many Republicans, it’s in both his self-interest to avoid alienating Trump supporters and in his party’s interest to elect its candidate as President. But as Khizr Khan has been correctly pointing out, there are even bigger stakes at play here, since that candidate is absolutely unfit for the office.
There’s an element of ugly but poetic justice in all this. Yes, McCain is in a tough political position. But the Trump candidacy is simply forcing McCain to reap what he sowed back in 2008, when he helped set the Republican Party on its current course. Or to put the point another way: Remember Sarah Palin?