Dear Senator McCain,
You probably don’t remember me — I’m one of your many former interns, one who came aboard in the 1980s when you first emerged as that energetic freshman senator from Arizona. We’ve had a bumpy “relationship” since, but I was once among the quintessential true believers. Those of us in the trenches back then wholly embraced the McCain cause because you were a different breed of politician. We respected your strong principles, willingness to reach across the aisle, and determination to stand up to anyone to do the right thing.
I’ve written about that job before but, until now, only a handful of people outside your inner circle knew about the day your senior aide/friend shoved his hand up my skirt, maneuvering himself for action from his office chair as I struggled to break free. I still remember my outfit, of all things, because it was a ridiculous “take me seriously” costume — a high-neck chambray shirt belted over heavy, ankle-length suede skirt, just like the glossy Ralph Lauren ads of the day.
You were overseas but, perhaps unusually for that era, didn’t hesitate to do the right thing. You fired your aide that very day and changed the locks. You instructed your team to offer support and help me pursue whatever remedies I wished. And unless someone pulled a cruel office prank, it was your voice on my answering machine apologizing, making sure I was okay and felt comfortable returning to work.
Later, even as my politics began drifting left, I stood by the McCain brand, defending you over Keating Five, Iran-Contra, various issue flip-flops, and other public grievances. Then came 2008 and Sarah Palin. I found your campaign behavior unforgivable — such a bizarre, inexplicable transformation. I actually preferred the sympathetic depiction of you in the film Game Change to reality because witnessing that desperate, self-interested, nasty candidate turned my stomach. I was hardly alone.
So here we are, in the midst of this critical election year. You’re eight decades in, running for your sixth term. You beat Kelli Ward — but with 48% of the Republican electorate against you. November looks hopeful against Ann Kirkpatrick, but polling data indicates a tight race ahead. You’re vulnerable. Many Republicans, including members of my Arizona-voting family, say you aren’t “conservative” enough and they’ll never vote for you. Others are wary about backing you because they think you’ll say or do anything to keep your seat — like letting Donald Trump freely trash your character and service. Arizona’s purple-state trend, meanwhile, isn’t helping, particularly the growing pool of Hispanics who will likely vote against you given your stance alongside Trump and his wall.
I get that you feel boxed in. You aren’t the only Republican leader hiding in plain sight (Paul Ryan and others, I’m calling you out, too), refusing to discuss “the nominee” while quietly endorsing him, insisting that it’s all about standing loyal with the Party vs. what it really is about: self-preservation. Still, something tells me that come November, when no one’s watching, you won’t be bubbling for Trump behind that curtain. Not after the offensive vitriol and stunning disrespect he’s shown you and essentially anyone one who’s deigned to be critical of him, isn’t Putin, or another able-bodied white male.
You know America deserves better and, right about now, I’m pulling for some old-school McCain magic, something mavericky and meaningful that puts country over party and politics — some straight-talk atonement. Tell the world that, ultimately, your conscience can’t countenance a vote for Trump. Imagine the respect you’d garner, the glorious relief in simply uttering the truth.
You could even go further: endorse Secretary Clinton. Tell us that for this election, you’re with Her. You’ve already said she’s a “tenacious,” “courageous,” “impressive candidate” who “deserves a lot more appreciation” — someone who’ll “no doubt” make a good president. Endorsing Clinton would obviously be bold, politically risky, even treasonous to some. But this isn’t your GOP anymore. Why hitch your wagon to Trump and align yourself with the ugliness, folly, and outright lies propping him up? Worst-case scenario: you lose with dignity and discover there are more pleasurable ways to pass your time, things that don’t involve donning an ill-fitting suit designed by someone else.
I can’t claim to know much about smart political strategizing in 2016. But it would sadden me and many others to see the man we once so respected win his election while losing his self. Do the right thing this time, Senator. Follow your granddaughter Caroline’s lead, remind us who the real John McCain is, and help preserve your legacy as the great patriot we know you to be.