A former secretary of state, a former senator and two former presidents all eulogized the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Saturday in a historic memorial service at Washington National Cathedral.
But the remembrance that will have the most resonance in today's political climate did not come from a politician. It came from the senator's daughter Meghan McCain.
This past year, Meghan McCain has become an unofficial spokeswoman for the family as her father simultaneously battled brain cancer and President Trump. And she brought that same passion — even anger — to her emotional speech remembering him. Here are nine of the most memorable excerpts, with our analysis.
1. "He was a great man. We gather to mourn the passing of American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice, those that live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served."
This happened pretty early on in McCain's 2,000-word eulogy, and it set the tone for the rest of it. "Cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice." Could she be talking about any number of her father's critics who did not have such a distinguished record of military service as her father did? Sure, maybe.
But it's hard to ignore that one of her father's most prominent critics not only didn't fight in Vietnam; Trump also got four deferments not to fight, including one for a bone spur. Meghan McCain also didn't have to use the phrase "cheap rhetoric" here to blast people who criticized her father. But she chose those extremely descriptive words instead of a more bland, generic phrase. Taken together, this line underscores just how little she — and ostensibly her father — respect the current president.
2. "He was a great fire who burned bright. In the past few days, my family and I have heard from so many of those Americans who stood in the warmth and light of his fire and found it illuminated what's best about them. We are grateful to them because they're grateful to him. A few have resented that fire for the light it cast upon them, for the truth it revealed about their character, but my father never cared what they thought, and even that small number still have the opportunity as long as they draw breath to live up to the example of John McCain."
"A few have resented that fire for the light it cast upon them for the truth it revealed about their character, but my father never cared …"
I'm reminded of a time last year, several months after John McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer. He came on a show his daughter co-hosts, ABC's "The View," to celebrate her birthday. McCain was inevitably asked about his increasingly eyebrow-raising criticisms of Trump, and Trump's threat to "fight back" against the senator. "Are you scared?" co-host Sunny Hostin asked the senator. McCain burst out laughing.
3. "Today I want to share with you where I found out who John McCain truly was, and it wasn't in the [Hanoi] Hilton. It wasn't in the cockpit of a fast and lethal fighter jet or on the campaign trail. John McCain was in all those places, but the best of him was somewhere else. The best of John McCain, the greatest of his titles and the most important of his roles, was as a father.
Imagine the warrior, the knight of the skies, gently carrying his little girl to bed. Imagine the dashing aviator who took his aircraft, hurtling off pitching decks in the South China Sea, kissing the hurt when I fell and skinned my knee. Imagine the distinguished statesman who counseled presidents singing with his girl in Oak Creek during a rainstorm to "Singing in the Rain." Imagine the senator, fierce conscience of the nation's best self, taking his 14-year-old daughter out of school because he believed I would learn more about America at the town halls he held across the country. Imagine the loyal veteran with his eyes shining with happiness as he gave blessing for his grown daughter's marriage."
This wasn't political, but, wow, it was emotional. Meghan McCain openly wept at times while giving this eulogy. While she shared these sentimental behind-the-scenes moments of McCain, it was clear that even as she admires and mourns her father's political legacy, what she misses most right now is simply her dad. McCain is a politician who incorporated his family into so much of his work, and the legacy of his service to family is evident in how they all remember and mourn him.
4. "John McCain was not defined by prison, by the Navy, by the Senate, by the Republican Party or by any single one of the deeds in his absolutely extraordinary life. John McCain was defined by love."
This didn't sound like it was meant to be extraordinarily political, or even political at all. But in framing her father as someone defined by love, Meghan McCain also reminds his critics that when her father spoke out against them, he was doing it with positive intentions to make the country a better, more loving place.
5. "For the rest of my life, whenever I fall down, I get back up. Whenever I am hurt, I drive on. Whenever I am brought low, I rise. That is not because I am virtuous, strong, resilient; it is simply because my father, John McCain, was.
When my father got sick, when I asked him what he wanted me to do with this eulogy, he said, 'Show them how tough you are.' That is what love meant to John McCain."
We all know John McCain was tough. He survived 5½ years in North Vietnam's infamous prisoner-of-war camp, the Hanoi Hilton. He fought and lost two presidential campaigns; he fought and won six elections to the U.S. Senate; he fought and won and lost too many policy battles to list here. But this anecdote of Meghan McCain asking her father for advice on his death bed illustrates one of his defining qualities better than anything else I've heard. "Tough." That's how John McCain wants his family to be in his death, and how he wants to be remembered through his family.
Meghan McCain is about to end her speech in a very, very tough way.
6. "Love for my father also meant caring for the nation entrusted to him. My father, the true son of his father and grandfather was born into the character of American greatness, was convinced of the need to defend it with ferocity and faith. John McCain was born in a distant now vanquished outpost of American power, and he understood America as a sacred trust. He understood our republic demands responsibilities, even before it defends its rights. He knew navigating the line between good and evil was often difficult but always simple. He grasped that our purpose and meaning was rooted in a missionary responsibility, stretching back centuries."
This excerpt encompasses decades of the McCain family's military and political legacy, including those of his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals. Also the last year of his own life, in which he willingly molded himself as the keeper of the flame of what he believed was the true Republican Party. To John McCain, that party was everything that Trump was not, and he seemed to feel it was his duty to be extremely vocal about that.
After Trump was inaugurated, the senator challenged the president on everything from his Cabinet picks to the president’s governing philosophy to Trump’s personal qualifications to lead the nation. He derided Trump’s foreign policy as “half-baked spurious nationalism” and urged Americans to “fight” against his “crackpot conspiracy theories."
Even in death, he used the final words of his final words to continue that battle against Trumpism: "Do not despair in our present difficulties," McCain wrote in his final statement.
7. "The America of John McCain is the America of the revolution. Fighters with no stomach for the summer soldier and sunshine patriot making the world anew with the bells of liberty. The America of John McCain is the America of Abraham Lincoln. Fulfilling the promise of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, and suffering greatly to see it through. The America of John McCain is the America of the boys who rushed the colors in every war across three centuries, knowing that in them is the life of the republic, and particularly those by their daring, as Ronald Reagan said, gave up their chance as being husbands and fathers and grandfathers and gave up their chance to be revered old men. The America of John McCain is, yes, the America of Vietnam, fighting the fight, even in the most forlorn cause, even in the most grim circumstances, even in the most distant and hostile corner of the world, standing for the life and the liberty of other peoples in other lands."
Meghan McCain wore an ocean of emotions during the eulogy, with her father's flag-draped casket lying beneath her. For this excerpt, she became visibly angry, especially when she derided "[the] summer soldier and sunshine patriot," comparing those people to the military service members her father both stood alongside and spent decades championing, most recently as the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee. John McCain was a military champion in the Senate and, at times, its leaders' adversary if he felt they weren't taking care of the men and women in service well enough.
8. "The America of John McCain is generous and welcoming and bold. She's resourceful, confident, secure. She meets her responsibilities. She speaks quietly because she's strong. America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great. That fervent faith, that proven devotion, that abiding love, that is what drove my father from the fiery skies above the Red River Delta to the brink of the presidency itself."
This excerpt has the line that Meghan McCain's eulogy will be remembered for: "The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great."
In case you were wondering whom she had been referring to in everything above. This is the only moment that those in attendance interrupted her speech to applaud. While Trump was not present, key members of Trump's administration were, including his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
9. “It is good to remember we are Americans. We don't put our heroes on pedestals just to remember them; we raise them up because we want to emulate their virtues. This is how we honor them, this is how we will honor you."
One of Meghan McCain's final lines has particular resonance in the context of how Trump repeatedly resisted honoring her father: The White House had to be asked by veterans groups to put its flag back at half-staff, and Trump nixed the idea of sending out an official statement honoring John McCain, sending out a much shorter tweet instead.
Intentionally or not, she's explaining why a week's worth of memorials spanning an entire country is not just for her father, but also in the best interest of the country.