Donald Trump's just-right statement on John McCain
President Donald Trump put out a brief expression of sympathy for the family of John McCain in the aftermath of the Arizona senator’s death — and now, a couple media cycles later, it’s like he unilaterally bombed North Korea, or purposely ran over a box full of kitties.
But on this, Trump shouldn’t be criticized. At least he’s not a hypocrite.
This is what Trumptweeted after news of McCain’s death was made public: “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!”
Short, to the point, succinct, tasteful. But some see it as too short, too succinct — too devoid of lists and mentions of McCain’s accomplishments.
Fox News analyst Brit Hume, for instance, retweeted Trump’s condolences and wrote: “Still not a kind word about McCain himself.”
The New York Times wrote this headline: “As a Nation Mourns McCain, Trump Is Conspicuously Absent.”
And from USA Today, this: “Donald Trump’s brevity following John McCain’s death speaks volumes.”
Here’s the thing, though: If Trump did put out the glowing statement that reports say press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and chief of staff John Kelly wanted him to release, then the president’s naysayers and supporters alike would be wondering on his hypocrisy.
He would be fighting off criticisms that said he was using McCain’s death for political pandering — to pretend a sympathy that everyone in American knew he didn’t feel.
After all, it’s not as if Trump and McCain shared an amicable history.
It’s not as if Trump shied from dinging McCain for his politics, for his war service, for his congressional service — and it’s not as if McCain returned the presidential criticisms by turning the other cheek, either.
In 2015, Trump famously said of McCain: “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Trump’s supporters — at least some — may have cheered and laughed. But the quip didn’t sit well with McCain’s camp.
And the McCain camp, if anything, has a long memory.
The senator, on the heels of Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin just this past July, said this: “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”
On top of that, Trump’s not even invited to McCain’s services at the National Cathedral — services that are sure to bring out the political potshots at this president.
“In Washington, even death is political — a fact McCain well understood as a sought-after eulogizer himself, and by planning his funeral rites to exclude the president, he will be making an unmistakable posthumous statement directed at the White House,” CNN reported.
Trump and McCain were neither friends nor political allies. That’s how it went; that’s just how it goes sometimes. And it’s good that Trump’s not pretending now that their relationship was something it never was. In Washington, D.C., there’s already enough fakery and hypocrisy to go around.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley.