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McCain was fearless in confronting dictators or their representatives on the international conference circuit; his inclusion of Democrats in addition to Republicans on Congressional delegations (termed CODELS) conveyed to allies, friends, neutrals and enemies a sense of American purpose, coherence and bipartisanship that sadly did not reflect the reality at home.

Once Donald Trump was elected president, however, McCain no longer felt compelled to emphasise the coherence of American policy. On the contrary, he did not hesitate to speak out against Trump’s disdain for long-standing alliances, or his seeming willingness to kow-tow to dictators. No one who heard him speak at an international conference was under any illusion that McCain had anything other than disdain for the man who nominally had secured the White House for the Republican Party but in actuality was redesigning that party in his very personal image.

To quote Vice President Biden’s eulogy once more, “All politics is personal. It’s all about trust. I trusted John with my life.” McCain made it very clear that he did not trust the new president with his life or with anything else. Even in death, the Republican from Arizona signalled that his views of the putative leader of his party had not changed at all, and neither had his commitment to personal comity, and when feasible, bipartisanship as a national imperative. Apart from Biden, his leading eulogisers were his opponents in presidential races: George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Obama was frank about his disagreements with McCain, which, he joked during the National Cathedral memorial service, were a daily occurrence. But the former president, perhaps the most left-wing Democrat ever to sit in the Oval Office, also had this to say about the departed conservative Senator from Arizona: “He did understand that some principles transcend politics, that some values transcend party.” And he added, “While John and I disagreed on all kinds of foreign-policy issues, we stood together on America’s role as the one indispensable nation, believing that with great power and great blessings comes great responsibility.” In the meantime, Donald Trump was nowhere to be found; he was leading rallies that still called for locking up Hillary Clinton as well as railing on Twitter against the FBI, the Mueller investigation, and Canada.

Lindsey Graham is the sole member of the “three amigos” still serving in the Senate. Kelly Ayotte, the dynamic Senator from New Hampshire whom McCain adopted upon Lieberman’s retirement, was defeated in the 2016 election. It is an open question whether Graham, or indeed any Republican, can fill the great Arizonan’s shoes, for McCain, though a principled conservative, not only was a voice for bipartisan leadership in international matters but also, on occasion, in domestic affairs. He supported campaign finance reform and immigration reform, and voted to preserve the Obamacare health legislation, all of which remain anathema to many, if not most, Republicans.

Many moderate Republicans have left their party, instead registering as independents. That some 90 per cent of those who remain Republicans are strong supporters of the current administration should be a cause for concern. For the question for the remaining ten per cent, who, like myself, have thus far chosen to remain in the party, is whether it will revert to that of Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, John McCain, or, for that matter, Abraham Lincoln, or whether it will remain mired in the pettiness, narrowness, prejudice, and cowardice in which it now finds itself. Should the latter prove to be the case, the party’s future will come increasingly into doubt, and it may well go the way of earlier American parties, like the Whigs and the Know Nothings, whose characteristics it has increasingly come to share and who were eventually relegated to the dustbin of history.
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untenured
October 5th, 2018
10:10 AM
Let's pretend the U.S. political system is not a kleptocracy that values its gerontocracy above all. The stench of corruption pervades every process. Rotten to the core, but not a cause for concern.

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