John McCain and President Donald Trump are not done with one another yet.
Days of mourning for the Arizona senator, including a lying-in-state in the Capitol Rotunda and the pomp of a service in Washington’s National Cathedral, are certain to become about more than simply honoring a singular political leader and national hero.
In Washington, even death is political — a fact McCain well understood as a sought-after eulogizer himself, and by planning his funeral rites to exclude the President, he will be making an unmistakable posthumous statement directed at the White House.
Tributes for McCain and the lauding of his courage, honor, decency, character, and readiness to reexamine his own mistakes will unfold at a time when Trump is facing an unflattering public debate about his own personality and behavior. The guilty plea by the President’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and conviction of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort last week deepened the political and legal storm raging around the White House — but still did not push most Republican leaders to criticize Trump.
In that context, the ceremonies marking McCain’s passing seem sure to become more than a lament for a departed political giant. They are likely to become a debate about political morality and the comportment and principles expected of public figures in an already polarized political age that has been further roiled by Trump’s disruptive influence.
After two losing presidential campaigns, McCain never made it to the Oval Office — yet he is getting an emotional sendoff and assessment that might befit one of the men who did become President.
CNN has reported that McCain chose Barack Obama and George W. Bush — the two men who kept him from the White House — to eulogize him and didn’t want the President to attend his funeral. If those plans hold, McCain will be sending a clear final message to Trump, after making clear when he was alive that he saw the President’s demeanor, populist style and global outlook as antithetical to America’s founding values and global role.