Mary Jo Pitzl and Dan Nowicki Arizona Republic
Published 3:13 p.m. UTC Aug 25, 2018
From the moment Donald Trump announced his presidential ambitions, he and Sen. John McCain have been locked in a highly publicized feud, waged in media interviews, on Twitter, at rallies, and in official statements.
Trump’s condemnation of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals” lit the fuse, with McCain saying he disagreed with the characterization.
The war of words — over policy and politics — has sizzled ever since.
In politics, the adage “never speak ill of the dead” applied also to the dying, including one’s enemies. But that sentiment has seemingly disappeared.
While McCain may not deserve the abuse heaped on him, he certainly courted it, throwing as many punches as he took.
Here’s a running list of the insults, snubs and attacks by the president and his White House directed toward McCain:
June 30, 2015: Two weeks after Trump announced his presidential candidacy in a speech widely criticized for calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and drug runners, McCain put distance between himself and the celebrity billionaire. ”I just disagree with his comments about the, quote, Mexicans,” McCain told The Arizona Republic after he held a town-hall-style event at CAE Aviation Academy Phoenix at Mesa’s Falcon Field airport.
July 10, 2015: The Republic published a story with the headline “McCain, Flake want no part of Trump’s Phoenix rally.” Trump campaign sources subsequently confirmed that Trump himself knew about the article, which quoted McCain speaking about Trump’s comments about Mexicans on MSNBC. ”I just think that it is offensive to not only Hispanic citizenry, but other citizenry, but he’s entitled to say what he wants to say,” McCain said. “But I guarantee you the overwhelming majority (in Arizona) … do not agree with his attitude, that he has displayed, toward our Hispanic citizens. We love them.”
July 11, 2015: Trump appeared at a rally at the Phoenix Convention Center. ”We have incompetent politicians, not only the president,” Trump told the crowd. “I mean, right here, in your own state, you have John McCain.” The pro-Trump audience booed the mention of McCain’s name. After the event, Trump hammered McCain some more. ”I’ve supported John McCain, but he’s very weak on immigration,” Trump said. ”If the right person runs against John McCain, he will lose.”
July 16, 2015: The New Yorker published McCain’s reaction to Trump’s Arizona rally. “This performance with our friend out in Phoenix is very hurtful to me,” McCain said in the interview. “Because what he did was he fired up the crazies.” Trump immediately fired back on Twitter, demanding that McCain apologize for the “crazies” remark and calling McCain a “dummy” for graduating last in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy. Trump called for McCain to be defeated in his primary.
July 18, 2015: The feud really exploded when Trump, at a Saturday event in Iowa, disparaged McCain’s service during the Vietnam War. Trump, who did not serve in Vietnam, said McCain was “a war hero because he was captured” and that he liked “people that weren’t captured.” McCain, a former Navy aviator who was shot down in 1967 and held as a prisoner of war for more than five years, was defended by groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Officers Association of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Concerned Veterans for America.
Aug. 10, 2015: McCain, who had been trying to keep out of a running feud with Trump, criticized Trump over comments about Fox News personality Megyn Kelly, a debate moderator who had clashed with Trump. McCain denounced Trump’s comments, which were widely derided as sexist, as offensive. McCain also defended his record on veterans’ issues from Trump’s attacks. “He said that I had been a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. I’ve never been on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee,” McCain said. “He said that I haven’t done anything for veterans. The last two major pieces of legislation were done by me, and we handle thousands — literally thousands — over time of veterans cases, of helping them. I’m proud of our record of helping our veterans, and every veterans organization, after what Mr. Trump said, came to my defense.”
March 1, 2016: Trump won big on Super Tuesday, making his march toward the Republican presidential nomination all but unstoppable. Pressure began building on McCain, who had been saying he would support whoever the GOP’s standard-bearer was, even Trump. Kirkpatrick’s campaign put out a web ad showing McCain saying he’d support Trump while highlighting a range of controversial Trump remarks. McCain was in a difficult political position because he was in the middle of a Republican primary campaign in which he was constantly attacked as too moderate or liberal.
March 3, 2016: McCain joined Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee, in beating up Trump. McCain focused on foreign policy. At the time, McCain aides pointed out that he’d also taken Trump to task over Trump’s attitude toward Muslims, Trump’s support for torture, and Trump’s approving remarks about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
April 19, 2016: McCain announced he would not attend the Republican National Convention in July, where Trump would accept the party’s nomination.
May 5, 2016: Politico published audio leaked from a fundraiser in which McCain grimly tells supporters that Trump is hurting the GOP brand with Arizona’s Latino electorate and that ”this may be the race of my life.” But McCain subsequently told reporters he was sticking with Trump. ”Because I’m a proud Republican. I am a Ronald Reagan-Teddy Roosevelt Republican and I support the Republican Party,” McCain said. “And the Republicans have chosen the nominee for the party. I think that makes sense.”
May 11, 2016: Trump seemed to want to make peace with McCain, telling national radio personality Don Imus: ”You know, frankly, I like John McCain, and John McCain is a hero. Also, heroes are people that are, you know, whether they get caught or don’t get caught, they’re all heroes as far as I’m concerned. And that’s the way it should be.”
Aug. 1, 2016: McCain hit Trump over his attack on the parents of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. However, McCain did not withdraw his support of Trump. ”I’ll tell you what: Anytime from now on, when that question is asked, if I change my mind, I’ll let you know,” McCain told reporters. Trump quickly retaliated by saying he would not endorse McCain in his primary, resurrecting his accusation that McCain hadn’t done a good job for veterans.
Aug. 5, 2016: Trump changed course and read a formal endorsement of McCain. ”I hold in the highest esteem Senator John McCain for his service to our country in uniform and in public office,” Trump said. “And I fully support and endorse his re-election.”
Oct. 4, 2016: McCain stood up for Trump with regard to comments Trump made about soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder; McCain suggested the media left out the context and distorted Trump’s meaning. Trump thanked McCain on Twitter.
Oct. 8, 2016: McCain finally pulled his support of Trump after a vulgar 2005 recording of Trump talking about women surfaced, joining many other Republicans in walking out on their party’s nominee.
Jan. 29, 2017: McCain and fellow Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., issue a statement criticizing Trump’s initial executive order on immigration, calling it “poorly vetted.”
The senators said they feared the order “will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”
In response, Trump fired back from his Twitter account, calling the two “sadly weak.”
Feb. 9, 2017: After McCain criticized the White House for calling a raid on Yemen a success, noting a U.S. Navy SEAL died during the event, Trump attacked McCain on Twitter. He chided the senator for characterizing the raid as a failure, saying it only emboldens the enemy.
May 30, 2017: In Australia for talks on security in the Asia-Pacific region, McCain urges Australia to not give up on its alliance with the United States over jitters about Trump. “I realize that some of President Trump’s actions and statements have unsettled America’s friends,” McCain said. “They have unsettled many Americans as well.”
That referred to a testy phone call between the newly installed Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which allegedly ended with Trump hanging up on Turnbull. McCain later helped to smooth over the incident.
June 12, 2017: While not a fan of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, McCain said the U.S.’ standing abroad was better under the previous administration. His remarks came in the same month that Trump criticized Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim mayor of London, on Twitter after terrorists killed eight and wounded dozens others after an attack in that city.
“What do you think the message is? the message is that America doesn’t want to lead,” McCain said about Trump’s statement, according to The Guardian.
June 30, 2017: After Trump attacked MSNBC morning news personalities Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on Twitter, McCain tells NBC News, “I’m just embarrassed. Embarrassed isn’t the right word. I just regret it.”
He added he wasn’t surprised, but disappointed. A survey by The Washington Post found at least three dozen other members of Congress from both parties felt the same way.
July 20, 2017: Just hours after announcing he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, McCain blasts Trump for his decision to end an Obama policy of offering CIA training for moderate Syrian rebels fighting the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.
“If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin,” McCain said in a statement.
July 27, 2017: McCain casts a dramatic “no” vote on the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act, providing the decisive vote that kept the law alive. The late-night vote brought an immediate, somewhat mild, reaction from Trump. But he would soon ager use numerous opportunities to diss McCain — usually without naming him — by calling out the senator’s “thumbs-down” gesture that sank the bill.
Aug. 15, 2017: McCain defends then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster from critics on the alt-right, a loosely defined group whose far-right ideology includes racism, populism and white nationalism. When asked about it, Trump responds by attacking McCain, not for his McMaster defense, but for his vote against AffordableCare Act repeal.
“You mean Senator McCain, who voted against us getting good health care?” Trump said.
Sept. 1, 2017: In a Washington Post guest column, McCain writes that bipartisan cooperation is more important than ever, given Trump has “no experience in public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.”
While saying Congress must respect the office of president and its authority, he reminds his fellow lawmakers they are not subordinate to the president and have a role in providing a check on executive actions.
October 17, 2017: While accepting the Liberty Medal, McCain denounces “spurious, half-baked nationalism,” and warns that approach is leading American to lose its prominence in world leadership.
During a radio interview the next day, Trump issued a warning to McCain after the senator had criticized him on foreign policy.
“I’m being very, very nice but at some point, I fight back and it won’t be pretty,” Trump said.
Asked about those comments on The View, a TV show co-hosted by his daughter, Meghan, McCain laughed off the warning.
Nov. 11, 2017: Russian President Putin insists his country did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections — a statement that Trump accepts. McCain does not, and lashes out at Trump for taking the word of the Russian dictator over the findings of U.S. intelligence officials.
March 20, 2018: After Trump congratulates Russian President Putin for winning re-election, McCain lashes out at the comment as un-American. “An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” McCain said.
May 3, 2018: In his forthcoming memoir, McCain condemns Trump’s leadership style, saying that to the president, ”the appearance of toughness or a reality show facsimile of toughness seems to matter more than any of our values.”
He also criticized Trump for his harsh assessment of refugees, his characterization as “fake news” any accounts he does not agree with and his praise for dictators and autocrats.
May 5, 2018: The New York Times reported that McCain doesn’t want Trump to attend his funeral and would prefer to have Vice President Mike Pence be there. The comments came from associates close to McCain, and were confirmed by multiple news sources.
May 10, 2018: White House staffer Kelly Sadler joked in a meeting that the administration didn’t need to worry about McCain’s opposition to the nominee for CIA director because he was “dying anyway.”
Her leaked remark was in response to McCain’s opposition to Gina Haspel. The comment was widely criticized by both those who oppose the president and his backers. Many called for her to fired, including members of the McCain family.
Sadler kept her job and the White House refused to apologize for the comment.
It wasn’t until a month later that Sadler was quietly let go.
June 20, 2018: At a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, Trump again refers to McCain’s “no” vote on the Affordable Care Act last year, drawing boos from the crowd. The president made the “thumbs-down” gesture, but never mentioned McCain by name. In response, Meghan McCain tweeted out her disgust at the reference, noting Trump does it repeatedly and “it never stops being gross.”
July 18, 2018: During his meeting in Helsinki with Putin, Trump again indicated he accepted Putin’s claim that Russia had nothing to do with U.S. election interference in 2016. Trump also said both countries are to blame for their difficult relationship.
In a statement, McCain shot back, saying of Trump’s comments ”no prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
Aug. 13, 2018: At the signing of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, Trump leaves out any reference to McCain. Fellow lawmakers named the bill after McCain in recognition of his leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee and his years of service in the Senate.
USA TODAY contributed to this report.
Contact Mary Jo Pitzl at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl. Follow Dan Nowicki on Twitter @dannowicki.
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