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Donald Trump reignited a firestorm Wednesday, as he took aim once more at one of his favorite foils of his political life: Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Trump’s invective against McCain date back at least to the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump disagreed that McCain ought to be considered a war hero for his service during the Vietnam War, saying, instead, that he preferred those “who weren’t captured.”
This time, however, Trump’s attack from the presidential podium took place months after McCain’s death from brain cancer.
While some, from across the political spectrum, rose up against Trump in indignation others saw reason behind Trump’s barbs hurled at a dead man.
The president began by criticizing McCain’s role in spurring–and then continuing–US military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq beginning during the administration of George W Bush.
Then the criticism became more personal, as Trump said his role in facilitating McCain’s elaborate multi-day memorial and funeral services last year went unacknowledged.
Trump, pointedly, had been disinvited at any of McCain’s memorial events, while Bush and former president Barack Obama both were requested to give eulogies.
“I endorsed him at his request and I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which, as president, I had to approve,” Trump said. “I don’t care about this. I didn’t get a thank you. That is okay. We sent him on the way, but I was not a fan of John McCain.”
While others complained about the comments, some observers saw personal, and even political, benefits for Trump.
“There is a reason for those nasty remarks, there is a history between those two men,” said Lou Dobbs, a fervent Trump supporter and host on the Fox Business network. “And people who are attacking–including [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell–attacking the president for his views on John McCain is asinine.”
MSNBC host Chuck Todd said that Trump would actually score points for going this round with McCain, even post-mortem.
“There is part of the Trump base, I don’t know what else to call it, that just wants to make liberals cry, that just wanted to ‘own the libs,’ that that is all the Trump candidacy is for these folks, but I come across these folks that love it,” Todd said during one segment. “They don’t lament it, they love it.”
Former Pennsylvania senator and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum seemed to try have it both ways during an interview on CNN, before he ultimately chalked this latest jab against McCain up as just one more turn for Trump in the ongoing investigation into ties between his 2016 campaign and the Russian government, as well as the so-called Steele dossier, which was assembled during the 2016 and later published, revealing many salacious allegations against Trump.
“It is vile behavior,” Santorum began, before adding, “But let’s just — you know, the bottom line here, this is about the sealed dossier, about the revelations that came out over the weekend that further implicated John McCain and his team of promoting the Steele dossier, which in the president’s mind, believes this is the reason for the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrants and ultimately for this Russia investigation.
“So this is him doing to John McCain what he did to [former attorney general] Jeff Sessions, which is someone who he believes is implicated in causing the biggest noose around his neck, if you will, when it comes to his presidency, which is just the constant harangue of this investigation, which is obviously impeded his presidency.”