“On behalf of the entire McCain family — @amyklobuchar please be respectful to all of us and leave my father’s legacy and memory out of presidential politics,” tweeted Meghan McCain, one of the late senator’s seven children and a co-host of ABC’s “The View.”
Speaking before an audience of roughly 200 people during a Saturday campaign stop in Des Moines, Klobuchar described Trump’s inauguration as “dark” and recalled how she sat on the stage between John McCain and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that day while Trump delivered a speech about rampant crime, rusted-out factories and “American carnage.” The fiery populist rhetoric apparently reminded McCain of various authoritarian figures from throughout history.
“John McCain kept reciting to me names of dictators during that speech because he knew more than any of us what we were facing as a nation. He understood it,” Klobuchar said on Saturday, according to NBC News. “He knew because he knew this man more than any of us did.”
Though the Democratic hopeful does not appear to have shared that particular anecdote in her speeches before, it’s no secret that McCain, who died of brain cancer in August at the age of 81, was one of Trump’s most high-profile critics.
The late senator withdrew his endorsement of the GOP nominee in 2016, citing “offensive and demeaning comments” that Trump made about groping women in the infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording. McCain later voted to oppose Republican efforts to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, much to Trump’s chagrin. One of his final public statements, issued a month before he died, condemned Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “tragic mistake” and “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
The disdain was mutual. Trump notoriously declared in 2015 that McCain, who spent over five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, was “not a war hero,” and commented, “I like people that weren’t captured.” After McCain died, Trump continued to ramp up his attacks against the late senator, falsely claiming that McCain had been “last in his class” at the Naval Academy and calling the health-care vote a “stain” on his legacy. In March, several months after McCain’s death, Trump told reporters, “I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.”
Klobuchar, who has described McCain as a mentor and visited him at his ranch in Arizona while he was fighting cancer, has frequently spoken out against such attacks. A spokesman told The Washington Post that she has great respect for McCain’s family but did not indicate whether that meant Klobuchar would avoid using the anecdote in future.
“Senator Klobuchar had a longtime friendship with Senator McCain, she has defended him against President Trump’s attacks in the past, and she has deep respect for his family,” said Tim Hogan, the campaign’s communications director. “While she was simply sharing a memory, she continues to believe that the best stories about Senator McCain are not about the views he had about President Trump: They are about McCain’s own valor and heroism.”
The dust-up comes a month after former vice president Joe Biden, who memorably delivered an emotional eulogy at the late senator’s memorial service, entered the crowded Democratic primary.
In the weeks before announcing his candidacy, as Biden faced criticism over his physical behavior toward women at public events, Meghan McCain jumped in to defend him, calling him, “one of the truly decent and compassionate men in all of American politics.” But her mother, Cindy McCain, has countered predictions that the family will endorse Biden’s presidential bid. “Joe Biden is a wonderful man and dear friend of the McCain Family,” she wrote in April. “However, I have no intention of getting involved in presidential politics.”
On Twitter, critics took issue with Meghan McCain’s contention that her father’s name should be left out of presidential politics. Some critics argued that she could have contacted Klobuchar’s campaign privately to express her concerns, rather than putting the senator on blast in a public forum. Others pointed out that McCain was a prominent public figure and that it was unreasonable to suggest that his former colleagues should refrain from sharing memories of him.
Others, noting that Meghan McCain frequently references her father on the talk show she co-hosts, suggested her motivation had been more cynical.
“She doesn’t want her father’s Democratic colleagues to share their real-life experiences with her dad because they might benefit,” tweeted liberal commentator Grant Stern. “So, she’s declared herself a political censor.”