Shortly after news that Sen. John McCain had died, President Donald Trump took to Twitter like many in Washington, to express his condolences. Yet unlike most others, the commander in chief had nothing to say about the late senator and war hero, only sending condolences to his family. “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain,” Trump wrote. “Our hearts and prayers are with you!”
The tweet appeared to exemplify the bad blood that existed between McCain and Trump right up to the Arizona senator’s death on Saturday. The two disliked each other so much that when McCain’s closest friends and advisers spread the word that they were getting ready for the inevitable funeral, they made it clear that Trump wouldn’t be invited. In a May story, the New York Times reported that McCain’s friends told the White House that Vice President Mike Pence should be planning to attend the service.
Trump made clear earlier this month that the bad blood between them wouldn’t subside just because the senator was nearing the end of his life. When Trump signed a piece of defense legislation named after the Arizona senator, he did so without once mentioning McCain’s name. “I’m here today to sign our new defense bill into law,” Trump said. “The national defense authorization act is the most significant investment in our military and our war fighters in our nation’s history.”
The bad blood between McCain and Trump began in earnest during the campaign, and many point to McCain saying in July 2015 that Trump had “fired up the crazies” as the opening salvo. It was shortly thereafter that Trump questioned McCain’s “war hero” credentials. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said. He later wrote an op-ed for USA Today doubling down on the criticism and blasting the senator. “The reality is that John McCain the politician has made America less safe, sent our brave soldiers into wrong-headed foreign adventures, covered up for President Obama with the VA scandal and has spent most of his time in the Senate pushing amnesty,” Trump wrote. “He would rather protect the Iraqi border than Arizona’s.”
Despite this tension though, McCain did end up toeing the party line and endorsing Trump’s bid for the presidency. But he later rescinded that support following leak of the Access Hollywood tape. Trump didn’t hide his anger, and took to Twitter to blast the senator: “The very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain begged for my support during his primary (I gave, he won), then dropped me over locker room remarks!”
After Trump moved into the White House, McCain often was one of the few voices within the Republican Party who stood up to the president. In one of the most remarkable episodes, McCain became the decisive no vote in the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Trump didn’t hide his anger and repeatedly mentioned that vote, without ever mentioning McCain by name, even as he continued his treatment for brain cancer. “Trump has displayed a remarkable lack of sensitivity to McCain’s very serious health problems and his stature in the Republican Party,” wrote the Washington Post’s Amber Phillips recently.
McCain, meanwhile, also seemed to become more critical of Trump as his time in the White House increased. In his memoir published this year, McCain criticized Trump’s apparent admiration for strongmen. “He seems uninterested in the moral character of world leaders and their regimes,” he wrote of the president. “The appearance of toughness or a reality show facsimile of toughness seems to matter more than any of our values. Flattery secures his friendship, criticism his enmity.”
In one of his strongest statements against Trump, McCain harshly criticized the president after the one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” McCain said in a statement. “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”
That is why it came as little surprise that as many politicians on both sides of the aisle expressed sympathy for McCain after news that he was stopping treatment on Friday, Trump stayed silent. The president didn’t mention the senator at all in a speech in Ohio Friday night.
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