When Sen. John McCain’s family was getting ready to say their last goodbyes as they informed the world that the former prisoner of war was ending treatment for brain cancer, Arizona GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward suggested the announcement was all about her. McCain died mere hours after she suggested the announcement was part of an effort to hurt her campaign. Ward, one of three candidates for the Republican Senate nomination in Tuesday’s Arizona primary to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, wrote on Facebook that “I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me.”
Ward, a longtime critic of McCain, made that comment in response to a Facebook post by one of her campaign staffers who questioned the timing of the announcement. “I wonder if it were just a coincidence that Sen McCain released his statement on the kickoff day of Kelli Ward’s bus tour or if it was a plan to take media attention off her campaign? I’m not saying it was on purpose but it’s quite interesting,” wrote Jonathan Williams. The post has since been deleted but screenshots have been making the rounds on social media.
Ward then wrote a follow-up post on Facebook in which she reportedly tried to blame the media for the comments, but that appears to have been deleted as well. “The media loves a narrative. I’ve said again and again to pray for Senator McCain & his family. These decisions are terrible to have to make. I feel compassion for him and his family as they go through this,” Ward wrote, according to the Arizona Republic. “It’s not the McCains creating a narrative—it’s the media making something out of nothing.”
On Sunday morning, as outrage grew on social media, Ward posted screenshots of several insulting comments she had received. “The Left is hateful, foul-mouthed, and easily misled. I do thank them (especially the out of staters) for increasing the reach of my page, though!” wrote Ward. “I’ll repost my condolences for Mr. McCain’s family again—please take note of the trolling comments by people who buy into #FakeNews & political smears—or maybe they don’t—it could be that they just like any excuse to bully and attack.”
Beyond what she wrote on social media, Ward also continued her criticism of McCain on the campaign trail Friday after the announcement that the senator was ending medical treatment. “We have a choice. Are we going to elect anther senator cut from the same cloth as Jeff Flake and John McCain?” Ward said at two campaign events Friday afternoon, according to Politico. Ward explained it was important to be able to separate McCain’s personal health with his career. “There’s Senator McCain the person, and I feel very bad for him and his family, but there’s also Senator McCain the politician who has let down Arizona again and again and again,” Ward told reporters. “I can separate the two and I hope you all can too.”
Many on social media were quick to criticize Ward’s comments, some calling it a perfect example of Trump-style politics. “The fact that Kelli Ward absurdly and falsely suggested that John McCain’s statement about stopping treatment before his imminent death *was timed to hurt her campaign* is a perfect reflection of just how lost and gross the Trump-era Republican Party is without people like McCain,” wrote Brian Klaas.
Read more on the death of John McCain.
If you think Slate’s election coverage matters…
Support our work: become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future.Join Slate Plus