Meghan McCain’s Eulogy Shows She Is Forged in Her Father’s Image - The New York Times
02 September 2018 00:00
WASHINGTON — As Meghan McCain delivered a eulogy for her father on Saturday, she was at times too grief-stricken to catch her breath. As she described his sickness from brain cancer or his love for her, she struggled to look up at a crowd full of boldface Washington establishment figures who had gathered at National Cathedral.
But as Ms. McCain shared one of her father’s dying directives — “Show them how tough you are” — her voice stopped wavering. The warrior’s daughter steeled herself, drew her eyes up and stepped into battle.
“The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again,” Ms. McCain said in a broadside against President Trump, “because America was always great.”
Applause from the crowd rang out, rendering as tinny in a cathedral not built for the sound.
This passage from Ms. McCain’s eulogy, delivered as Mr. Trump’s own daughter Ivanka sat among the mourners, will be remembered for its explicit rebuke of the Trump-era Republican politics that Mr. McCain had condemned as too partisan, too tribal and, as Ms. McCain put it, defined by “cheap rhetoric.”
Her emotional call to arms was also proof — as if any was needed — that Ms. McCain is her father’s daughter, a paradoxical Republican figure willing to pay the price of being politically direct.
In the hours since Ms. McCain — the eldest and by far the most publicly visible child of Mr. McCain and his widow, Cindy — delivered her eulogy, conservatives have debated whether it was appropriate for her to have used the funeral to make a political statement, with one prominent Republican coming to her defense.
This surely would have delighted her father. Even with a deeply felt and loving eulogy, Ms. McCain, 33, did as Mr. McCain had done so often: provoked and divided his own political party in dramatic fashion.
Ms. McCain, who built her career as a blogger and writer and is now a co-host of “The View” on ABC, shares her father’s ability to pivot between righteous anger and effusive love in the span of a breath or two. Like him, she has honed a sense of timing: She understands how to toggle between each for maximum effect.
And, like him, she has taught herself to be professionally invigorated by conflict as she has thrived in the ever-closing space between politics and entertainment. She has been happy to stand publicly at odds with the shifting ideals of her own party.
Yet she is no resistance figure. She spends much of her time on “The View” battling Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg, two co-hosts who offer spirited defenses of Democratic policies.
“Meghan is someone who has extremely strong beliefs about life and politics,” Ms. Behar wrote in an email on Sunday, as the McCain family and other mourners gathered in Annapolis, Md., for Mr. McCain’s burial. “She will argue you under the table but has great respect for you when you give it right back to her.”
She added that there was only one topic that made Ms. McCain blush: “Bring up the subject of sex, on TV. I guess she worries about what her grandmother will think.”
For Ms. McCain, televised debate on “The View” is akin to what her father did on the Senate floor.
“I know what defined him,” Ms. McCain said of her father during her eulogy. “I got to see it every single day of my blessed life.”
The senator’s beliefs in the ideals she outlined — toughness, love, bipartisanship and respect for a bygone “stoic silence that was once the mark of an American man” — have ultimately defined his daughter, former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, a man Ms. McCain recently called a surrogate “uncle” on Instagram, wrote in an email.
“As proud as she was of him, he was even prouder of her,” Mr. Lieberman said. “Meghan is likely to embody John’s spirit on matters of public policy and good government in ways in which John did during his public life.”
Ms. McCain was at her father’s side, learning from his brand of Republican politics and idolizing him, from her earliest days: When she was two weeks old, she noted on Instagram recently, Mr. McCain held her in the crook of his arm as he visited a polling station. As Ms. McCain grew up, her mother would refer to her as “John McCain in a dress.” And when she married Ben Domenech, a founder of the conservative website The Federalist, last year, the menu included wild game and apple pie — her father’s favorite foods.
A disciple of her father’s straight-talk approach, Ms. McCain has long confounded Republicans who say they cannot easily suss out her beliefs, and she has frustrated Democrats who want to believe that she is secretly one of them — a sentiment that only grew on Saturday. She has said that abortion is tantamount to murder, but has been a proponent of sex education and birth control. She supports same-sex marriage. She also supports gun rights, but has said she favors some restrictions.
“Old-school Republicans,” she said in 2012, have reacted to her at times “like I’m talking about killing Ronald Reagan.”
Now, the reaction to her by Trump-era Republicans is only stronger. “It’s too bad she can’t participate in a funeral instead of lobbing political hand grenades,” Ken Cuccinelli, a former attorney general of Virginia, wrote on Twitter.
She is not a politician. At least, not yet. So far, Ms. McCain has shied away from questions about running for office, in part because she has been vocally critical of the obstacles women in politics still face.
She shared her father’s pride in befriending people whose beliefs do not match hers — but not hesitating to let them know when she feels they have crossed a line. In this, she sees some family resemblance. “We’re both very strong-willed and ambitious, and I think we have a similar sense of humor,” Ms. McCain said of her father in a 2010 interview with The New York Times. “I think we both live our lives kind of fearlessly and without apologizing.”
Her scrappiness clearly pleased the senator, who relished that trait in himself. In an appearance on “The View” last fall, Mr. McCain jokingly told her colleagues that she was an “ungovernable” child.
“I was pretty rebellious when I was younger,” Ms. McCain conceded.
“Unlike her father,” the senator quipped.
As her political views began to form, Ms. McCain channeled a hereditary sense of pugilistic extroversion into social media, blogging, writing jobs and television deals. A millennial McCain, she has publicly shared much of her life — and her father’s career.
Her career is affording her the opportunity to share her brand of politics with viewers of daytime television. In joining “The View” in October, Ms. McCain wanted to offer the program, which is popular with female viewers, a counterweight to its liberal hosts and a more modern approach to conservatism.
“I think that women need to know around the country that the media sometimes wants to act like all women live in big cities, are pro-choice and don’t want to carry guns,” she told ABC News last fall.
But some conservatives have viewed her as destructive to their causes. A decade ago, when blogging about Mr. McCain’s run for the presidency, she found herself in open warfare with conservatives like Ann Coulter. Ms. McCain was banished from the campaign weeks before it ended.
If this ever caused conflict between father and daughter, it was not visible.
“Thank you for showing me how to be a Viking warrior,” she wrote in one of many affectionate Instagram posts recently dedicated to Mr. McCain, “even when some thought it more appropriate for boys.”
In the years since the 2008 election, the Republican Party has yielded to conservatives like Ms. Coulter, a onetime provocateur whose views now feel decidedly more mainstream, and paved the way for a president whose supporters tend to celebrate his divisiveness.
Still, Ms. McCain has resisted being painted as a Trump archenemy: Once publicly sympathetic to the sexism and “glass ceiling” she said Hillary Clinton faced, she has since used her platform to embrace Mr. Trump’s name-calling of Mrs. Clinton as “Crooked Hillary.”
“I hate Hillary Clinton,” she said on the program this year, “as everyone here knows.”
She has also publicly criticized several of the president’s targets, including James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, whom she has accused of becoming a “political commentator.”
But this past weekend, Ms. McCain was back at war with the president and some of his supporters, a point made crudely clear as a doctored image with a gun pointed at a grieving Ms. McCain circulated online. On Saturday, after a funeral where he was uninvited and unwelcome, Mr. Trump — whose animosity to Mr. McCain even led him to once mock the senator’s time as a prisoner of war — issued his own pointed tweet: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
In the political world, Ms. McCain had at least one notable defender. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a longtime ally and friend of Mr. McCain’s — and another surrogate uncle — said Ms. McCain’s eulogy had been a reflection of how her father raised her.
“If you say something bad about her dad, you will know it, whether you’re the janitor or the president of the United States,” Mr. Graham said on CNN. “She is grieving for the father she adored. I think most Americans understand that.”
The senator said he was proud of the woman she had become.
She is, he said, her father’s daughter.
“She was direct,” Mr. Graham said. “The way John was.”