John Sidney McCain III August 29, 1936 – August 25, 2018 was an American politician and naval officer who served as a United States Senator from Arizona from 1987 until his death in 2018. He previously served two terms in the United States House of Representatives and was the Republican nominee for President of the United States in the 2008 election, which he lost to Barack Obama.
McCain graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1958 and followed his father and grandfather—both four-star admirals—into the U.S. Navy. He became a naval aviator and flew ground-attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. During the Vietnam War, he was almost killed in the 1967 USS Forrestal fire. While McCain was on a bombing mission during Operation Rolling Thunder over Hanoi in October 1967, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese. He was a prisoner of war until 1973. McCain experienced episodes of torture and refused an out-of-sequence early repatriation offer. The wounds that he sustained during the war left him with lifelong physical disabilities. He retired from the Navy as a captain in 1981 and moved to Arizona, where he entered politics. In 1982, McCain was elected to the United States House of Representatives, where he served two terms. He entered the U.S. Senate in 1987 and easily won reelection five times, the last time in 2016.
While generally adhering to conservative principles, McCain also had a media reputation as a “maverick” for his willingness to disagree with his party on certain issues. After being investigated and largely exonerated in a political influence scandal of the 1980s as a member of the Keating Five, he made campaign finance reform one of his signature concerns, which eventually resulted in passage of the McCain–Feingold Act in 2002. He was also known for his work in the 1990s to restore diplomatic relations with Vietnam, and for his belief that the Iraq War should have been fought to a successful conclusion. McCain chaired the Senate Commerce Committee and opposed pork barrel spending. He belonged to the bipartisan “Gang of 14” which played a key role in alleviating a crisis over judicial nominations.
McCain entered the race for the Republican nomination for President in 2000, but lost a heated primary season contest to Governor George W. Bush of Texas. He secured the nomination in 2008 after making a comeback from early reversals, but was defeated by Democratic nominee Barack Obama in the general election, losing by a 365–173 electoral college margin. He subsequently adopted more orthodox conservative stances and attitudes and largely opposed actions of the Obama administration, especially in regard to foreign policy matters. By 2013, however, he had become a key figure in the Senate for negotiating deals on certain issues in an otherwise partisan environment. In 2015, McCain became Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In 2017, he reduced his role in the Senate after a diagnosis of brain cancer. He died at the age of 81 on August 25, 2018.
John McCain was born on August 29, 1936, at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, to naval officer John S. McCain Jr. and Roberta (Wright) McCain. He had a younger brother named Joe and an elder sister named Sandy. At that time, the Panama Canal was under U.S. control.
McCain’s family tree includes Scots-Irish and English ancestors. His father and his paternal grandfather, John S. McCain Sr., were also Naval Academy graduates and both became four-star United States Navy admirals. The McCain family followed his father to various naval postings in the United States and the Pacific.
Altogether, he attended about 20 schools. In 1951, the family settled in Northern Virginia, and McCain attended Episcopal High School, a private preparatory boarding school in Alexandria. He excelled at wrestling and graduated in 1954.He referred to himself as an Episcopalian as recently as June 2007 after which date he said he came to identify as a Baptist.
Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, McCain entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. He was a friend and informal leader there for many of his classmates, and sometimes stood up for targets of bullying. He also became a lightweight boxer. McCain did well in academic subjects that interested him, such as literature and history, but studied only enough to pass subjects that gave him difficulty, such as mathematics. He came into conflict with higher-ranking personnel and did not always obey the rules, which contributed to a low class rank (894 of 899), despite a high IQ. McCain graduated in 1958.
McCain announced his candidacy for president on September 27, 1999, in Nashua, New Hampshire, saying he was staging “a fight to take our government back from the power brokers and special interests, and return it to the people and the noble cause of freedom it was created to serve”. The frontrunner for the Republican nomination was Texas Governor George W. Bush, who had the political and financial support of most of the party establishment.ts. He traveled on a campaign bus called the Straight Talk Express. He held many town hall meetings, answering every question voters asked, in a successful example of “retail politics”, and he used free media to compensate for his lack of funds. One reporter later recounted that, “McCain talked all day long with reporters on his Straight Talk Express bus; he talked so much that sometimes he said things that he shouldn’t have, and that’s why the media loved him.” On February 1, 2000, he won New Hampshire’s primary with 49 percent of the vote to Bush’s 30 percent. The Bush campaign and the Republican establishment feared that a McCain victory in the crucial South Carolina primary might give his campaign unstoppable momentum.
McCain formally announced his intention to run for President of the United States on April 25, 2007 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He stated that: “I’m not running for president to be somebody, but to do something; to do the hard but necessary things, not the easy and needless things.”
McCain’s oft-cited strengths as a presidential candidate for 2008 included national name recognition, sponsorship of major lobbying and campaign finance reform initiatives, his ability to reach across the aisle, his well-known military service and experience as a POW, his experience from the 2000 presidential campaign, and an expectation that he would capture Bush’s top fundraisers. During the 2006 election cycle, McCain had attended 346 events and helped raise more than $10.5 million on behalf of Republican candidates. McCain also became more willing to ask business and industry for campaign contributions, while maintaining that such contributions would not affect any official decisions he would make. Despite being considered the front-runner for the nomination by pundits as 2007 began, McCain was in second place behind former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani in national Republican polls as the year progressed.
During the 2016 Republican primaries, McCain said he would support the Republican nominee even if it was Donald Trump, but following Mitt Romney’s March 3 speech, McCain endorsed the sentiments expressed in that speech, saying he had serious concerns about Trump’s “uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues”. Relations between the two had been fraught since early in the Donald Trump presidential campaign, 2016, when McCain referred to a room full of Trump supporters as “crazies”, and the real estate mogul then said of McCain: “He insulted me, and he insulted everyone in that room… He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured… perhaps he was a war hero, but right now he’s said a lot of very bad things about a lot of people.” Following Trump becoming the presumptive nominee of the party on May 3, McCain said that Republican voters had spoken and he would support Trump.
McCain’s personal character was a dominant feature of his public image. This image includes the military service of both himself and his family, the circumstances and tensions surrounding the end of his first marriage and beginning of second, his maverick political persona, his temper, his admitted problem of occasional ill-considered remarks, and his close ties to his children from both his marriages.
McCain’s political appeal was more nonpartisan and less ideological compared to many other national politicians. His stature and reputation stemmed partly from his service in the Vietnam War. He also carried physical vestiges of his war wounds, as well as his melanoma surgery. When campaigning, he quipped: “I am older than dirt and have more scars than Frankenstein.”
Writers often extolled McCain for his courage not just in war but in politics, and wrote sympathetically about him. McCain’s shift of political stances and attitudes during and especially after the 2008 presidential campaign, including his self-repudiation of the maverick label, left many writers expressing sadness and wondering what had happened to the McCain they thought they had known. By 2013, some aspects of the older McCain had returned, and his image became that of a kaleidoscope of contradictory tendencies, including, as one writer listed, “the maverick, the former maverick, the curmudgeon, the bridge builder, the war hero bent on transcending the call of self-interest to serve a cause greater than himself, the sore loser, old bull, last lion, loose cannon, happy warrior, elder statesman, lion in winter….”
In his own estimation, the Arizona senator was straightforward and direct, but impatient. Other traits included a penchant for lucky charms, a fondness for hiking, and a sense of humor that sometimes backfired spectacularly, as when he made a joke in 1998 about the Clintons widely deemed not fit to print in newspapers: “Do you know why Chelsea Clinton is so ugly? – Because Janet Reno is her father.” McCain subsequently apologized profusely, and the Clinton White House accepted his apology. McCain did not shy away from addressing his shortcomings, and apologizing for them. He was known for sometimes being prickly and hot-tempered with Senate colleagues, but his relations with his own Senate staff were more cordial, and inspired loyalty towards him. He formed a strong bond with two senators, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, over hawkish foreign policy and overseas travel, and they became dubbed the “Three Amigos”
McCain’s family announced on August 24, 2018, that he would no longer receive treatment for his cancer. The next day, at 16:28 MST (23:28 UTC), he died with his wife and family beside him at his home in Cornville, Arizona, four days shy of his 82nd birthday.
Tributes were widely given on social media, including from Congressional colleagues, former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, German foreign minister Heiko Maas, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and former Vietnamese ambassador to Washington Nguyen Quoc Cuong, also sent condolences.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey will appoint McCain’s interim replacement until a special election is held in 2020, the winner of which will serve to the end of McCain’s term in January 2023. Under Arizona law, the appointed replacement must be of the same party as McCain, a Republican. The potential appointees include McCain’s widow Cindy, former Senator Jon Kyl, and former Representatives Matt Salmon and John Shadegg.