A precedent embalms a principle.
-Benjamin Disraeli, 1848 Speech
The rock has cooled. It happened on May 30, 2016, when Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said it would be “disrespectful” not to support the presumptive nominee of the Republican party whom a majority of Republican voters had selected. That surprised voters who recalled that the New York Times reported that, at a February 19th luncheon of Republican governors and donors, Mr. McConnell said that if Mr. Trump were the party’s nominee, it would “be catastrophic, dooming the party in November.” In the event of his nomination, Mr. McConnell said: “We’ll drop him like a hot rock” in the general election. He went on to say that if candidates felt their own elections were threatened by a top of the ticket Trump, they could run negative ads about him. That was then. This is now and it all shows that a lot can happen in four months if you are Mitch McConnell. A lot less if you are Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is still saying the sorts of things he was saying at the end of February that so offended Mr. McConnell but Mr. McConnell had forgotten all about them until Mr. Trump began making racist comments about the judge who is presiding over the Trump University lawsuit in California. Those comments did not, however, cause Mr. McConnell to withdraw his support. It caused him to express the hope that Mr. Trump would apologize and “get on script” whatever that script may be. Seeking an apology from Mr. Trump is probably a fool’s errand but nonetheless, another senator has embarked on that same errand. He is one-time presidential candidate and and long time senator, John McCain.
Mr. McCain is in a tough fight in Arizona to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate. Because ambition trumps principle in Mr. McCain’s case, the Senator has endorsed Mr. Trump, although he coupled his endorsement with a request for an apology. The request made because of comments Mr. Trump had earlier made about service personnel who were captured in Viet Nam. Although Mr. Trump was deprived of the opportunity to serve his country during the Viet Nam war years because of student deferments and a medical deferment he received because of a bone spur on one of his feet, (although he could not recall which foot it was when asked) he attended the New York Military Academy in high school and knows what it takes to be a good soldier and knows what traits define war heroes. And it is that knowledge that enabled him to comment on Mr. McCain’s military service. In an interview that took place in June 2015, Mr. Trump said of Mr. McCain that: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” Later in the interview he moderated his comments by saying: “If a person is captured, they’re a hero as far as I’m concerned. . . But you have to do other things also. . . .” (Mr. Trump did not limit his attack on Mr. McCain to his status as a POW. Mr. Trump said that not only was Mr. McCain a loser for having gotten captured, he was also a loser for not having defeated Barak Obama for the presidency. As Mr. Trump explained: “He lost and let us down. I’ve never liked losers.” It is impossible to know whether Mr. Trump’s self esteem will be affected should he lose the election in November.
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Mr. McCain is a generous man, not one to withhold support from a candidate just because the candidate has insulted him. On May 8, 2016, he announced his support of Mr. Trump’s candidacy saying it would be “foolish to ignore the will of voters.” Nonetheless, Mr. McCain’s endorsement came with a wish for an apology. As he explained: What he said about me . . .that’s fine. I don’t require any repair of that. But when he said, ‘I don’t like people who were captured’ then there’s a body of American heroes and I’d like to see him retract that statement.” Not that Mr. McCain’s support of Mr. Trump depends on a retraction. He’s just indulging in wishful thinking.
There’s a lot of wishful thinking going around in Republican circles. It’s expressed differently depending on who’s talking. Senator Susan Collins of Maine has said she will support the Republican nominee. That does not mean she is not concerned about Mr. Trump’s racist remarks about the judge in the Trump University lawsuit. Her concern has not, however, caused her to withdraw her support. As she explained, she believes in redemption.
Call it belief in redemption or wishful thinking, there’s a lot of both going on in Republican circles these days. For good reason.