Will a tide of McCain mania sweep aside Donald Trump’s political support? Don’t bet on it

Robert Delaney says the love for traditional Republican John McCain is unlikely to translate into action against Trump and his supporters in the US midterm elections, not when Trump has inured the country to his politics of hate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 3:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 7:43pm

Are the political stars aligning against US President Donald Trump? Many moderate and left-of-centre people are hoping the outpouring of grief in the United States at Senator John McCain’s death will destabilise Trump’s political support. As prominent members of both political parties eulogised McCain at his funeral on Saturday, Trump appeared vulnerable.

The current national reverence for McCain rivals the praise lavished on former US president Ronald Reagan following his death in 2004. In the 1980s, Reagan was the architect of the resuscitation of the Republican Party, which in many ways remains powerful today.

That is, powerful but divided into those of Reagan’s and McCain’s ilk who love free trade, and those who support Trump. The two factions also differ on the degree to which Washington should intervene overseas in defence of democracy and human rights, with Trump loath to call out foreign governments on perceived violations of such principles.

McCain’s death has revealed the depths of the schism and has emboldened more of the party’s moderates and traditionalists to speak out. Ever present in the sustained praise for McCain is a rebuke of Trump.

Meanwhile, Trump attacked Google and Facebook last week, accusing them of building algorithms to favour content that shows him in a bad light and warning them of consequences to come.

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The warning was one more on the long list of Trump’s antics, and evinced the rift in the Republican Party. By putting the American tech giants’ alleged political bias in the national spotlight at a time when many Americans were mourning McCain, Trump was clearly trying to create a diversion and deflect criticism.

The attack on Google and Facebook is also consistent with Trump’s animosity towards most journalists, whom he has called “enemies of the people”. Without the amplification given by search engines and social media, journalists’ efforts to uncover details of the many investigations of Trump and his associates would gain far less traction. Trump hasn’t yet managed to muzzle mainstream media outlets, but now he is also turning on the tools of news dissemination.

In so doing, he is tilting towards the kind of media controls enforced in Russia and China, two countries that traditional Republicans – most notably McCain – have always seen as ideological rivals of the US.

And Trump is not the only one who has alienated moderate Republicans.

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There are also those who seem intent on placing the president above the law and empowering white supremacists. They include Trump’s legal aide Rudy Giuliani, who has tried to undermine a crackdown on corruption in Romania, and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, whose dedication to racial purity is palpable.

The campaigns Trump and his team have waged since taking office lean closer to far-right movements in Germany, Italy, Poland and elsewhere, and would never be condoned by those mourning McCain today.

However, those hoping that the love for McCain will translate into a broadly coordinated effort to clip Trump’s wings or create a Democratic “blue wave” in November’s midterm elections need to manage their expectations. Trump has managed to bring into the political mainstream a level of contempt for American institutions and “dog-whistle” rhetoric on race that the country has not seen since the 1950s. He has inured a great many Americans to his tactics, such that less civic-minded folk merely shrug when Trump drops another of his hate bombs.

On the other hand, the rising popularity of candidates like Democrat Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who support initiatives including a single-payer, universal government-sponsored health care system, might alienate centrist Republicans possibly more than Trump.

Trump and his people know this. They are betting that the McCain mania will wane in the news cycle and that the invective Trump spews has a stronger hold on his base than appeals to transparency, rule of law, and basic decency have on political centrists.

They might be right. And that would be a disaster for America and the world.

Robert Delaney is the Post's US bureau chief, based in New York