The feud between President Donald Trump and Senator John McCain is heating up. The protagonists on both sides of this fight are intense and determined, and yet if we dig beneath the personalities, we can see an even deeper conflict—an ultimate conflict of visions. And that clash of worldviews, in turn, is full of implications for the behavior of the Deep State in the months and years to come.
In the meantime, the headlines are startling: The Washington Post headlined its story on Saturday the 17th, “John McCain just systematically dismantled Donald Trump’s entire worldview.”
And there’s this from The Chicago Tribune: “McCain criticizes Trump for calling media ‘the enemy’: ‘That’s how dictators get started.’”
And Axios, a buzzy new Beltway publication founded by the original brains behind Politico, runs this headline, “McCain gets revenge on Trump.” (Interestingly, by coincidence, or perhaps not, the next headline in the Axios news feed was, “The 10 biggest leaks of the Trump presidency.”)
It’s commonly thought that the Trump-McCain confrontation began on July 18, 2015, when Trump said of McCain, in reference to his years as a POW in North Vietnam, “I like people who weren’t captured.” It’s possible to imagine that Trump meant that as something of a quip, and yet the breach was real. Moreover, we shall see, the two men have far more profound disagreements than that.
During most of 2016, McCain, facing a primary contest from a pro-Trump challenger, kept quiet about Trump. And yet after he had won his bid to be renominated, in October 2016, McCain announced that he would not be voting for Trump.
And then, of course, came the national election, which put Republicans in charge of both the White House and the Congress for the first time in a decade. So if there was ever a time to patch things up in the name of advancing a common Republican agenda, this was it. Indeed, Virgil, grizzled Beltway veteran that he is, has learned over the years that fights over personalities and politics usually can be patched up in the name of shared goals.
However, what’s harder to patch up are disputes among the strong-minded over matters of worldview. And both Trump and McCain are strong minded, with sharply divergent worldviews.