Trump's blatant disrespect of the late senator has appalled the country. But Trump, as always, has a great excuse for his behavior.
But Trump has a very good excuse — doesn't he always? — for his unabashed disrespect this week.
"We had our disagreements and they were very strong disagreements," Trump said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg. "I disagreed with many of the things that I assume he believed in."
So that is why Trump's tweet immediately after McCain's death extended sympathies to the family without actually mentioning McCain himself. Because of his strong disagreements on ... something.
And that is why Trump forbade his White House staff from releasing the statement it had drafted, and why he did not order the flags to remain at half staff until McCain's burial — decisions that were later reversed in response to the nationwide outcry of disgust.
Because of those "very strong disagreements" Trump is quite sure he had with the late senator, though he doesn't know what they were.
And that is why, when Trump was asked during a photo op Monday if he had any thoughts to share on McCain, he stubbornly crossed his arms and ignored the question. He must have been deep in thought about all the things on which he and his fellow Republican so strongly disagreed — whatever they were.
It's certainly possible that Trump has simply forgotten one of their strongest disagreements. In 2015, during his presidential campaign, Trump infamously mocked the Vietnam veteran for his five years as a POW.
"He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK? I hate to tell you. He's a war hero because he was captured. OK?"
And then there was, of course, the moment McCain — who spent years railing against Obamacare and vowing to repeal it — voted not to do so in 2017. He did, however, vote to gut a crucial part of the health care law in the Republican tax bill he voted for later in the year. Trump gave McCain no credit for that vote, but did continue to attack him for his earlier vote.
Overall, though, they didn't actually have a lot of disagreements. McCain voted with Trump's agenda 83 percent of the time. Other Republicans in Congress have a far more lockstep record, but it's hard to argue that McCain didn't give Trump almost everything he wanted.
Maybe that's why Trump had such a hard time thinking of any example at all of his strong disagreements with McCain.
But it's not as if the two men had to agree on much of anything for Trump to muster the very smallest modicum of respect for the man. After all, they were both Republicans, sharing many of the same values — opposing women's health care, opposing gun safety, giving tax cuts to the rich.
Compare that with the opening line from former Vice President Joe Biden's eulogy for McCain on Thursday: "My name's Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat. And I loved John McCain."
Now, Biden and McCain certainly had many strong disagreements. And Biden, unlike Trump, could likely name one or two of them. At least.
For Trump, however, it has proved impossible to pretend to show respect for the late senator. As the country has spent the week mourning and remembering McCain, Trump has both literally and figuratively stubbornly crossed his arms and refused to fulfill his basic duties as head of state to say one kind word about McCain.
But according to Trump, he's done enough.
Asked by Bloomberg whether he had perhaps erred in his behavior this week, Trump said — predictably — that of course he has not.
"No, I don’t think I did at all," he answered. "I’ve done everything that they requested and no, I don’t think I have at all."
McCain will lie in state at the Capitol Friday and will be buried on Sunday.
Trump, meanwhile, will be hidden away at Camp David, where, according to the New York Times, his "aides hope he will contain his anger at the attention being lavished on Mr. McCain."
Or perhaps Trump will be fuming about all those strong disagreements he and McCain had — if he can manage to come up with any.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.