And even considering the two men's up-and-down history and the terrible things Trump has said about McCain, it was a striking display from a senior leader of a party when it comes to a president of the same party.
In his speech, McCain suggested the Western world is uniquely imperiled this year — even more so than when Barack Obama was president — and proceeded to question whether it will even survive.
“In recent years, this question would invite accusations of hyperbole and alarmism; not this year,” McCain said. “If ever there were a time to treat this question with a deadly seriousness, it is now.”
In case there was any doubt that this was about Trump. Here's what followed:
- "[The founders of the Munich conference] would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarianism.”
- “They would be alarmed by the hardening resentment we see towards immigrants and refugees and minority groups -- especially Muslims.”
- “They would be alarmed by the growing inability -- and even unwillingness -- to separate truth from lies.”
- "They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent."
That's Trump, Trump, Trump and Trump.
McCain continued: “But what would alarm them most, I think, is a sense that many of our peoples, including in my own country, are giving up on the West, that they see it as a bad deal that we may be better off without, and that while Western nations still have the power to maintain our world order, it's unclear whether we have the will.”
Trump has repeatedly suggested a desire to pull out of or scale back on international involvement and agreements. His slogan is “America first,” after all. And it's not just on free trade: It's also when it comes to things like NATO, the transatlantic military alliance that Trump has suggested the United States is getting a bad deal on and has flirted with not enforcing.
Then McCain invoked some of those close to Trump and emphasized that their messages wouldn't square with his:
I know there is profound concern across Europe and the world that America is laying down the mantle of global leadership. I can only speak for myself, but I do not believe that that is the message you will hear from all of the American leaders who cared enough to travel here to Munich this weekend. That's not the message you heard today from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. That is not the message you will hear from Vice President Mike Pence. That's not the message you will hear from Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. And that is certainly not the message you will hear tomorrow from our bipartisan congressional delegation.
McCain then concluded with another direct shot at Trump.
“I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries,” he said. “I am a proud, unapologetic believer in the West, and I believe we must always, always stand up for it. For if we do not, who will?
Two weeks ago, you may recall, Trump suggested the United States didn't exactly have the moral high ground on Russia. Asked by Fox News host Bill O'Reilly about wanting good relations with a “killer” like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump demurred.
“There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers,” Trump said. “Well, you think our country is so innocent?”
Ever since, it seems, he and McCain have been on a collision course. McCain didn't fight back when Trump questioned his war-hero status long ago — perhaps because both men were trying to win elections — but the battle between McCain and the White House is picking up steam.
And on Friday, McCain traveled across the Atlantic to deliver a calculated, planned attack on Trump's entire system of beliefs.