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What the Devil won't tell you

Look out, Donald: Straight Talk Express rumbling back to life

President about to pay a price for POW comment

George Stephonopoulos tells a story in his book “All Too Human” about the first time President Bill Clinton threw a tizzy in the Oval Office.

It was about a leak. Someone on his staff had said of then-Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “We don't need him. We'll run right over him if we have to (or words to that effect).” Clinton was smart enough in early 1993 to know what a stupid statement that was. As the Senate's committee chairman in charge of tax policy, Moynihan wasn't just necessary to Clinton. He was practically self-sufficient. The new president needed DPM far more than the experienced senator needed Clinton.

According to Stepahonopoulos, Moynihan told Clinton not to worry. It was fine. These things happen. Then the chipper and upright senator went to work on Clinton with a pair of pliers over the next two years.

At least Clinton knew when he saw the quote that it was a serious mistake. At least he hadn't said it. At least nobody'd said it on tape.

So, U.S. Sen. John McCain is about to do the Seth Meyers show this week and it's a particularly important development that hasn't gotten much play in the D.C. press. He seems ready to clear his throat and do the "Straight Talk" thing again because McCain's favorite card to play is the Ace of Spades — the Death Card — on those who done him wrong.

Donald Trump's presidency suffered a major blow months before it started. His longest-lasting self-inflicted wound may be the day he threw out the line "He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Insulting McCain and all his fellow POW's in the Hanoi Hilton was a whole new level of trash talking.

The comment caught McCain in the jaw during a primary season that saw the leaders of the Maricopa County Republican Party pass an “anyone but McCain” resolution. Suffice it to say, McCain had to bite his tongue during the campaign to win the primary and turn out the base in support of himself over a tough opponent in then-Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.

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McCain sucks at reading talking points. His body language stiffens, his eyes get Nixonian and his voice goes flat. His buddy Lindsay Graham can tilt right with a syrupy drawl and a southern wink that all but broadcasts “I don't need a primary, bear with me.” McCain looks like he wants to punch someone in the neck when he has to swallow down and declare “he never called himself a maverick.”

Well, McCain won.

He's 80 years old and won't face another race until he's 86. And he can get back to the politics of the personal. Oh yes, John McCain remembers. You could almost see it on his face the last eight years when he discussed the 44th President of the United States: “How the hell did this happen?”

Worthless and weak

McCain had been so dead set on running for president in 2008 that in the years between then and previous insurgent run in 2000, he barely stepped foot in his home state. It's just a hunch but I think McCain could have handled losing to Hillary but a three-term state legislator out of Illinois and partial-term senator? And his middle name was Hussein (not that he went there but still …)?

So everything Obama did was wrong for eight years. Worse, it was feckless and weak. His lip practically curled every time he discussed something that President Obama had done.

He was weak on the Taliban.

He was weak on Russia.

He was weak on Syria.

He was weak on Iraq.

He was weak on cyber security.

He was weak on ISIS.

And he was still feckless on Russia.

I'm not going to go de-conflict the notion of weakness versus not wanting to open fire at first sign of aggression anywhere in the world. McCain has a particular way of viewing the world that doesn't line up with Obama's. So an R blasted a D. Dog bites man.

It ain't business. It's personal ...

But he seems to relish nothing more than intramural retribution for presidents of his own party. When he says “this is bigger than party,” watch out. He's not going to remove the duct tape lashing the Republican president's wrists to the chair and that razor blade ain't for shaving.

Remember the right-wing hit on his family deployed by Bush supporters in 2000. McCain has an adopted daughter from Bangladesh and during the South Carolina primary someone sent out mailers saying she was a “black daughter born out of wedlock.”

Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove 10 years later was denying he had anything to do with it. swore it wasn't him but McCain never bought that.

Who was the biggest critic of the Bush administration as the Iraq war unraveled? John McCain. Who was out there banging the drum against torture, when the Bush team said it was vital? John McCain. Who banged on the Bush team to fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez? John McCain. Who voted against the Bush tax cut in 2001? John McCain. Who pushed campaign finance reform over the express objections by the Bush team? John McCain. Who backed climate change legislation (watered down as it may have been) that Bush opposed? John McCain.

Who did the Bush re-election team ask to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Republican Convention to vouch for the President during a tough re-election battle? John McCain.

Who holds Donald Trump's domestic agenda in the palm of his hand? Arizona's senior senator. McCain and Graham tend to vote as a team. To piss off one is to piss off the other. The Republicans hold the U.S. Senate by two seats. McCain and Graham say no, and every other Republican senator can dictate terms. That includes Trump haters like Ted Cruz, Jeff Flake, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse (perhaps next in line to be the Senate's lone adult) and Maine's Susan Collins.

And McCain is the first Republican to mention the Comey-Russia scandal in terms of Watergate. He obviously alone won't provide enough votes for any possible removal from office but he can make Trump's life more hell than it would otherwise be every step along the way.

“I prefer people who weren't captured”?

Here comes the bus

McCain is testing the waters of the liberal talk show circuit this week. In 2007, Jon Stewart called McCain the most-frequent guest on the Daily Show after 13 appearances. He did another 13 guest spots on David Letterman.

Letterman was rough on conservatives but Meyers has been far more surgical in his strikes against Trump and the GOP. His “A Closer Look” segment seems set on channeling Jon Stewart and John Oliver, blurring the line between comedy and news advocacy. And yet, here comes McCain, ready to sit down and talk to Meyers.

Maybe McCain will try to set that young whippersnapper straight. He may try to sober up the Left because the Russia investigation still has a ways to go and all involved should be proven innocent. I'm guessing we're going to hear “this is bigger than party.”

It's easy to be cynical about McCain's return to "maverick" form. He had a legacy he seemed to ruin in 2010 when he was fending off a serious primary challenge from the right (or as serious as J.D. Hayworth could make himself). Liberals and conservatives are right to see it as a degree of grandstanding.

On the other hand, just as Trump understood how to talk to the right wing of the Republican Party, McCain understands the shrinking middle wants to see someone acting like an adult in D.C. They want to believe the system is redeemable and McCain knows how to talk to them in a way that engenders trust.

“I prefer people who weren't captured?” Oh, Donald Trump. I hope that testosterone-soaked moment was worth it. The Straight Talk Express is rumbling back to life and its tire tracks are about to be a familiar stain for White House stewards to presoak out of Trump's too-large jacket.

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Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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1 comment on this story

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13 comments
May 28, 2017, 7:02 pm
-0 +0

McCain won’t make it to the next election.
The “Ghoul Pool” has his demise set at age 82.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

McCain in 2014.