President Trump took a moment to offer condolences to the family of former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who died on Saturday at the age of 81.
My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2018
Noticeably absent from the tweet was anything about McCain himself. Trump famously criticized the former Republican presidential candidate and Vietnam prisoner of war during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said during a Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, in July 2015. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
At the time, many thought this was the moment Trump’s presidential candidacy was finished. Who can so strongly criticize a beloved national figure and former party nominee and survive?
Trump repeated the sentiment in an op-ed for USA Today after his statement, saying flatly, “the reality is that John McCain the politician has made America less safe,” referring to his record of supporting foreign wars.
Trump and McCain had plenty of policy disagreements — largely but not exclusively on immigration and foreign policy — and McCain famously became the deciding vote to kill legislation designed to repeal Obamacare, one of Trump’s campaign promises. As the Washington Post’s Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey reported, resentment from Trump lasted through the final days of McCain’s life. Trump continued to tweet criticism of McCain even after the senator was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer months ago.
If anything, Trump has proved that it’s not a career finisher to criticize someone many considered to be an elder statesman.
In a follow-up article in the Washington Post on Sunday, Dawsey reported that Trump resisted efforts by others in the White House to say something more personal about McCain’s life and career:
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and other White House aides advocated for an official statement that gave the decorated Vietnam War POW plaudits for his military and Senate service and called him a “hero,” according to current and former White House aides, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. The original statement was drafted before McCain died Saturday, and Sanders and others edited a final version this weekend that was ready for the president, the aides said.
But Trump told aides he wanted to post a brief tweet instead, and the statement praising McCain’s life was not released.
And that’s exactly what Trump did.