Updated on August 27 at 10:19 a.m. ET
The tweet from President Donald Trump came about a half hour after John McCain’s death had been announced on Saturday night. It was 21 words long, and despite a respectful tone, the president mustered exactly zero words of praise for the late Republican senator.
“My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain,” Trump wrote. “Our hearts and prayers are with you!”
One can imagine the president typing the tweet—or signing off on it—through gritted teeth. The Republican Party whose standard McCain once carried had become the party of Trump, but the Arizona senator, through his final days, had never been truly willing to hand it over. Trump had long since won the adoration, or at least the grudging acceptance, of most of the Republicans who had fought his ascendance in the party—including each of the GOP senators he had trounced in the 2016 nomination fight. Even McCain’s best friend in the chamber, Senator Lindsey Graham, had become golfing buddies and a stalwart ally of the president’s.
He had thwarted Trump in his final major act as a senator, providing the dramatic and decisive vote that killed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the president’s first big legislative push. Then, as he underwent treatment for brain cancer over the next year, McCain battered the president rhetorically from afar. Without naming Trump during an October speech accepting the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, he assailed the president’s worldview as “some half-baked spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.” It was, McCain continued, “as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”