If there was any question about whether U.S. Senator John McCain would endorse Republican front-runner Donald Trump now that his long-time BFF Lindsey Graham dropped out of the race, the answer is loud and clear: absolutely not.
In the latest back and forth between McCain and Trump, the Arizona Senator called the real estate mogul-turned-politician a propaganda tool for Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding that he was either profoundly ignorant, or the perfect example of how not to conduct diplomatic relations with our international adversaries.
McCain’s comment came shortly after Putin called Trump “a really brilliant and talented person…the absolute leader in the presidential race,” and Trump responded that it was “a great honor” to receive such praise.
"If Putin respects me, and if Putin wants to call me brilliant,” Trump said during an interview with George Stephanopolous of ABC News, “I'll accept that, and I'll accept it on behalf of our country.”
President Barack Obama “doesn’t get along with Putin; Putin can’t stand our president, and it’s causing us difficulty,” Trump added. “If Russia wants to bomb the hell out of ISIS and join us in that effort, I am absolutely fine with it. I think that’s an asset, not a liability.”
We need a PRESIDENT with strength, stamina, heart and incredible deal making skill if our country is ever going to be able to prosper again!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2015
While Trump’s claims that he’d get along great with Putin – the two were allegedly “stablemates” backstage at a taping of 60 Minutes – and that he’s all for Russia’s involvement in Syria and Iraq are nothing new, it was his next comment that many, McCain included, found shocking and reprehensible:
Stephanopolous asked Trump about Putin’s human rights record, specifically the lethal targeting of journalists.
“Nobody has proven that he’s killed anyone,” Trump said of the Russian leader.
“As far as the reporters are concerned, obviously I don’t want that to happen. I think it’s terrible—horrible. But, in all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed?
“Because I’ve been—you know, you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the name. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.”
Cue McCain’s exasperated response in an interview later that day with Concord News Radio: “The thing that’s so concerning about Mr. Trump’s compliments of Vladimir Putin is that Vladimir Putin has slaughtered his own—killed his own people, including people I knew. His equipment has shot down and killed a couple hundred people.”
Putin is “a bully and thug, and to pay a compliment to this KGB-apparatchik-murderer is something that I just can’t find in anyway plausible. [It] is incomprehensible,” McCain added.
When asked by the radio host if he was more upset by Trump’s pro-Putin remarks than the insults Trump hurled his way a few months ago – specifically that McCain wasn’t a real hero because he was a prisoner of war, and Trump prefers people who don’t get caught – McCain essentially said yes:
“Well what he said about me – I’m in the [political] arena,” the Senator said, essentially shrugging off the insults.
“[But] in this case, for him to provide propaganda, which is really what he just did, for Vladimir Putin who is a thug and a murderer, I think is really astonishing and shows either profound ignorance or an attitude that contradicts everything about the United States of America and our relations with our adversaries.”
“We want to get rid of ISIS, we want to get rid of them effectively, surgically, fast and strong,” Trump said in a different interview later that day. “But you know, I really believe that Russia and the United States can be a positive force together, as opposed to really working negatively with each other all the time.”
Problem is, he added, “We actually have senators — you know, John McCain, Lindsey Graham — these guys are saying if we let Russia do it, it’s like we’re losing prestige or something.”
Perhaps the best part of McCain’s interview about Trump was the sheer frustration in his voice, as if he just could not believe a presidential front-runner was glorifying Putin and his involvement in Syria – a strategy most believe is intended to prop up the government of Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad while he slaughters his own people.
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McCain was asked by a reporter if he was nervous that there is more to Trump’s admiration of Putin than just words? Did he worry that a President Trump might be inclined to replicate some of Putin’s tactics in the U.S.?
“Uh, no,” a very hesitant McCain responded. “I think our Constitution and its enforcement and our system of laws would prevent anything like that.”
But he didn’t sound particularly optimistic.