What Trump Can Learn From John McCain
Donald Trump is cruel, selfish, ignorant and proud of it. He’s consumed by resentment and insecurity. His self-respect is the opposite of his ego, so small and fragile that an insult undoes him for days.
He treats women disgracefully, mocks the disabled and sneers at those he thinks inferior to him.
He cheats his investors and vendors. He uses his “charity” to spend other people’s money to advantage himself. If he can help it, he always avoids lifting a finger to help another soul.
He lies about everything to everyone.
I would be surprised if any major party presidential nominee in our history was as awful a human being as is Donald J. Trump.
To his most ardent supporters, including people I knew growing up, and people whom I live among now in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, he’ll lie to you, too. And he’ll make fun of you, ignore you, and cheat you. Because that’s what he does to everyone.
He’s going to lose this election, probably in a landslide. And he knows it. He’s probably known it for the last two weeks, since he got his clock cleaned in the first debate, and went on a week-long tirade about a former Miss Universe. He’s going to lose and he needs someone to blame other than himself.
As senior Jeb Bush campaign aide Tim Miller recently wrote, unwinnable campaigns are a stern test of character for the losing candidate and his staff. They have to work just as hard as they would if it were winnable. They have to make a public and private show of confidence and enthusiasm when they are physically and mentally exhausted. They try to minimize the damage to the party’s other candidates. Everything they do, they do knowing they are doomed. It takes a toll.
That’s what candidates with good character do anyway. It’s not what Donald Trump does. If he’s going to lose, he’s going to take as many people with him as possible. He’ll blame anyone and everything for his defeat except his own asinine behavior. He’ll attack his own party, stoke his supporters’ anger to a white heat, and exhort them to avenge his loss. He’s going to hurt the country for rejecting him.
Throughout his campaign, he’s preached resentment and vengeance to Americans who feel their way of life and their future have been taken from them by various scapegoats, by politicians and bankers and Mexicans and Muslims. Now, he’s telling them a nefarious elite is destroying his campaign, the cause in which they desperately invested their last hope. Burn it down, he barks, and if someone gets hurt, they had it coming.
In the summer of 2007, John McCain’s presidential campaign was nearly bankrupt and crippled by internal disputes. He had started the race the consensus frontrunner and now it looked like he would be the first to drop out, six months before the Iowa caucuses.
But McCain believed he owed it to his supporters, and to the surge in Iraq, which he had recommended and used his campaign to defend, to stay in the race. I was on the verge of leaving. He had rejected my advice in a campaign shake-up. I thought I had lost his confidence and should resign. He sat me down in his office and painted an almost comically grim picture of his future. This is a close approximation of what he said.
“Boy, they’re writing my obituary right now. I’m going to New Hampshire tomorrow and every reporter I know is going to be there to see if I actually die right before their eyes. I’m going to be criticized, made fun of, and, worst of all, I’m going to be pitied. I won’t have crowds. I won’t have money. And I won’t have a chance. But I’m going to keep at it every damn day for another six months. And then I’m going to get my ass kicked.”
Then he looked at me, smiled, and asked, “Why are you being such a wimp?”
McCain didn’t lose six months later. He went on to become the Republican nominee, largely do to the grit he displayed in that moment of crisis and embarrassment.
He lost the general election to Barack Obama. We made mistakes, but we ran in a political environment that likely would have overwhelmed us even if we had run a perfect campaign. McCain’s grit in those last weeks, after the global credit system collapsed and he knew he would lose, was something to behold. As was his class in defeat.
In his concession speech, he accepted sole responsibility for his campaign’s mistakes. He congratulated Obama “on being elected the next president of the country we both love,” and complimented him for inspiring “so many millions of Americans, who had once wrongly believed they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president.”
He spoke of his admiration for his opponent and urged his supporters to join him in congratulating the president-elect. “I wish Godspeed,” he said, “to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.”
That’s how a person with character concedes an election. But Republicans don’t have a presidential candidate with character on the ballot this year. We have Donald Trump. And rejecting him has become a test of our character.