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John McCain’s Legacy Creeps Into 2020 Political Election

Lieutenant Commander McCain being interviewed after his return from Vietnam, April 1973
Lieutenant Commander McCain being interviewed after his return from Vietnam, April 1973. (Photo: US Library of Congress)

“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” wrote the late senator.

Senator and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar spoke of John McCain’s disapproval of President Trump at a campaign rally over the weekend, drawing a swift rebuke from the late senator’s daughter, Meghan. The episode ignited a debate on how Sen. McCain’s legacy, and his openly acrimonious relationship with the president, should be used in the upcoming 2020 election.

Sen. Klobuchar was speaking to an audience in Des Moines on Saturday when she told an anecdote about Sen. McCain’s impression of President Trump’s inaugural speech. President Trump spoke of “American carnage” during the speech, painting a dark picture of incessant crime and broken-down factories sprawled across the fallen nation.

“I sat on that stage between Bernie and John McCain, and John McCain kept reciting to me names of dictators during that speech because he knew more than any of us what we were facing as a nation. He understood it,” Klobuchar said on Saturday, according to NBC News. “He knew because he knew this man more than any of us did.”

John McCain’s daughter Meghan, an author, columnist and co-host of ABC’s “The View,” quickly responded:

“On behalf of the entire McCain family — @amyklobuchar please be respectful to all of us and leave my father’s legacy and memory out of presidential politics,” tweeted Meghan McCain.

While Sen. Klobuchar hadn’t publicly recounted the anecdote before, Sen. McCain was a frequent critic of President Trump. After the president’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where Trump was widely criticized for valuing the testimony of the Russian leader over US intelligence agencies, the Arizona senator issued a statement of condemnation.

“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” wrote the late senator.

President Trump disrespected McCain early into the 2016 campaign by saying, “He’s not a war hero,” despite the late senator’s military service in Vietnam and five years spent in an enemy prison camp. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” the president explained. Later on, Sen. McCain famously cast a last-minute vote rejecting the repeal of Obamacare, further fueling the ire of the president.

Several months after McCain’s death, Trump told reporters, “I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.”

CNN’s Chris Cillizza views Sen. McCain as a symbol of the pre-Trump Republican party, and argues the fight over his legacy is about whether the GOP sacrificed its principles to appease the president and his base.

Lawyer George Conway, whose wife Kellyanne Conway serves as the White House counselor, came to the defense of Klobuchar.

“Sen. Klobuchar was perfectly respectful, and the anecdote she told redounded to the late Senator’s credit. His legacy belongs to the nation he devoted his life to serving,” tweeted Conway.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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