John McCain is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, and according to recent reports from the New York Times and NBC News, the senator has a dying wish: He doesn't want Donald Trump to attend his funeral. (McCain is fine with Vice President Mike Pence showing up.) Barack Obama, his 2008 presidential opponent, is supposed to deliver a eulogy, along with George W. Bush, whose presidential campaign famously smeared McCain in an ugly 2000 primary.
The Arizona Republican obviously is willing to set aside most political rivalries, but has made an exception for Trump, and who would blame him? In 2015, Trump said of the senator, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured." (McCain, a former Navy pilot, spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, while Trump successfully dodged the draft.) Throughout the reality TV star's presidential run and his time in the Oval Office, he's made a habit of insulting McCain, calling the senator "very foul mouthed," berating him on Twitter for casting the deciding vote against Affordable Care Act repeal, and calling him "sadly weak" on immigration. In September, Axios reported that "President Trump has taken to physically mocking...John McCain (imitating the thumbs-down of his historic health-care vote)."
The president's repeat attacks on McCain provide enough explanation for why the senator wouldn't want the president to attend his funeral, but let's be real: Would you want Donald Trump to attend your funeral? I certainly wouldn't.
What would a Trump eulogy for John McCain even look like? He would likely struggle with staying on script, and would have a difficult time conjuring up kind words. There's a chance he'd derail the ceremony, berate the dead for not bending his knee to him, or just prattle on about himself for way too long. Would the president be able to put on a convincing frown, or would he pose for pictures with his signature with grin and thumbs-up? Trump is a master at saying the exact thing he shouldn't say—that's a trait that may have helped him get elected, but isn't ideal for a eulogizer.
Trump supporters, have been quick to attack McCain. "John McCain doesn't want President Trump to attend his funeral. Imagine that. Leaving the world the same way you came into it.... being a crybaby," one MAGA supporter tweeted. "Imagine being such a miserable, bitter, pathetic old man that your dying wish is that the president is not at your funeral," another Trump supporter opined. "John McCain is a very arrogant and bitter man," another rider on the Trump Train observed. "Too bad his legacy will be that of pettiness," yet another Trump fan remarked.
"When I die someday, most people won’t care," alt-right firebrand Laura Loomer mused. "And when I think about how #JohnMcCain said he didn’t want @realDonaldTrump attending his funeral, my first thought was, 'man, I hope someone as important as Trump comes to my funeral someday so other ppl feel inclined to attend mine.'"
Loomer's logic reveals a sad truth about how she thinks of herself, but more to the point, it misunderstands funerals. Memorial services aren't parties—the goal isn't to get the biggest names possible to attend. The ideal memorial service aims to celebrate the life of the recently deceased. McCain's legacy will be debated for years, with liberals deriding him for supporting a number of loathsome Republican priorities while cultivating an unearned reputation as a "maverick." More centrists types might hold up moments when he bucked his party in the name of common decency and tradition—there was his vote against ACA repeal, or the moment in the 2008 campaign when he corrected a supporter who called Obama an "Arab," for which he got booed by his own crowd. Either way, he's done more than most Republicans to challenge Trump in public. What could Trump possibly say about such a person?
The White House appears to have an iota of awareness that the president might be a less-than-ideal funeral attendee. Last month, he skipped Barbara Bush's funeral, which the White House said was "to avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush Family and friends attending the service."
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