U.S. Sen. John McCain provides new insights into his 2008 White House campaign against President Barack Obama and tries to put the President Donald Trump era into focus in a new memoir set for release on Tuesday.
“The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations” is the third book in an autobiographical trilogy that includes 1999’s “Faith of My Fathers” and 2002’s “Worth the Fighting For.”
McCain again reunites with his former Senate chief of staff and longtime co-author Mark Salter for the book, in which the six-term Arizona Republican senator also reflects on the Iraq War, the need for comprehensive immigration reform, and Trump’s character.
In an audio recording, of Sen. John McCain reads an excerpt from his book ‘The Restless Wave.’ In the excerpt, McCain reflects on human nature and conjures somewhat of a farewell message to the American people. (May 4)
Here are five more takeaways from “The Restless Wave.”
McCain suggests his confused questioning of Comey was related to his brain tumor
McCain seems to believe that his garbled questioning of former FBI Director James Comey during a June 8, 2017, hearing is related to his life-threatening glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
McCain writes that he felt “something was off” after he returned from a multination overseas congressional-delegation trip.
“I didn’t know exactly what,” McCain writes. “Fatigue mostly.”
During the notorious Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, McCain at one point made a reference to “President Comey.”
At the time, McCain had said he stayed up the night before watching an Arizona Diamondbacks game. Later, he told Esquire that his friend, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had emailed him a question to ask. However, the question dropped off the smartphone, and he tried to wing it by memory with disastrous results.
“Something happened between reading the question and asking it,” McCain writes in his memoir. “To this day, I’m really not sure what caused it. But as was widely noted at the time, I was incomprehensible. It was a high-profile hearing, carried live by the cable news networks. My strange performance was the focus of commentary on cable and fuel for Twitter. I felt embarrassed for myself and sorry for confusing Comey. It was one of the more mortifying experiences of my public career. Even now, I wince at the memory of it.”
It may be difficult to know definitively if McCain’s confused questioning of Comey was directly related to his brain cancer, but McCain writes as though he thinks it did.
First, he tried to “put the whole thing down to a bad bout of jet lag,” McCain writes, but “a small concern nagged at me” ahead of his July 14 regular physical at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.
That medical visit revealed a need for immediate cranial surgery, which led to his brain-cancer diagnosis.
Anyone who doesn’t like his handling of the Trump dossier ‘can go to hell’
McCain also gives his most complete version of his role in intrigue surrounding a dossier of salacious research and raw intelligence on Trump and his connections with the Russians.
McCain previously acknowledged getting a copy of the dossier, which was authored by Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 officer, and giving it to the FBI, which already was aware of the material.
“I had an obligation to bring to the attention of appropriate officials unproven accusations I could not assess myself, and which, were any of them true, would create a vulnerability to the designs of a hostile foreign power,” McCain writes in the book. “I discharged that obligation, and I would do it again. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go to hell.”
McCain confirms that he learned about the so-called Steele dossier from Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia, while attending the November 2016 Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia.
“Steele had prepared a report that Wood had not read and conceded was mostly raw, unverified intelligence, but that the author strongly believed merited a thorough examination by counterintelligence experts,” McCain remembers. “Steele was a respected professional, Wood assured us, who had good Russian contacts and long experience collecting and analyzing intelligence on the Kremlin. Both Steele and Wood were alarmed by what he had learned and worried that it would not be further investigated.”
McCain noted that he had been “alarmed” by Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and thought Russian President Vladimir Putin should “pay a steep price for it.” But McCain says he also was skeptical about collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians “and I certainly did not want to believe that the Kremlin could have acquired kompromat on an American President.”
“Kompromat” is the Russian term for compromising material or derogatory information that can be used to blackmail an official.
McCain’s book also says that David Kramer of Arizona State University’s McCain Institute for International Leadership went to London to meet Steele and “report back” to McCain. After he did, McCain writes that he “agreed to receive a copy of what is now referred to as ‘the dossier.’ “
McCain also speculates on why Wood and Steele sought him out.
“That’s the first accusatory question in every budding conspiracy theory about my minor role in the controversy,” McCain writes. “The answer is too obvious for the paranoid to credit. I am known internationally to be a persistent critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime, and I have been for a long while. Wood and Steele likely assumed that my animosity toward Putin, which I unapologetically acknowledge, ensured that I would take their concerns seriously. They assumed correctly.”
Eight years after an unsuccessful long-shot presidential bid, John McCain took another run at the nation’s highest office. He would run against a young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. In the end, McCain again would not be president.
McCain regrets not tapping Joe Lieberman as his VP candidate, but defends Sarah Palin
It’s not news that McCain wanted to choose his friend Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent senator from Connecticut, as his 2008 running mate. However, “The Restless Wave” gives McCain’s inside account of how he wound up tapping then-unknown Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin instead.
Picking Lieberman would have been perhaps McCain’s most maverick move ever. But it also would have carried a huge risk of alienating the GOP’s conservative base — which already was less than thrilled that McCain was that year’s nominee — and possibly cause a revolt at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
McCain and Lieberman were allies on national security but parted ways on other key issues, including abortion rights.
McCain’s advisers talked him out of it.
“They were giving me their best counsel. It was sound advice that I could reason for myself,” McCain writes in the book. “But my gut told me to ignore it, and I wished I had. America’s security and standing in the world were my principal concerns and the main reason, other than personal ambition, that I ran for President. Joe and I share those priorities, and on most related issues we agree on how best to serve them. I completely trusted, liked, and worked well with Joe.”
After he was persuaded not to go with Lieberman, McCain admits, “I sulked about it for a little while.”
Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, and Steve Schmidt, a senior campaign adviser, pitched the conservative Palin to McCain as a veep possibility and, McCain writes, “I was intrigued.” A.B. Culverhouse, who was in charge of vetting running mates for McCain, called her a “high risk, high reward” choice. But Salter, a senior adviser and McCain’s “Restless Wave” co-author, warned that Palin’s “scant exposure to national politics, and her self-admitted knowledge deficiency in national security issues, would undermine the experience advantage we had over Obama.”
Salter, who wanted McCain to pick Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, proved prescient: Palin’s lack of political seasoning and feeble grasp of national and foreign-policy issues would prove to be a big liability in the presidential campaign.
McCain critics continue to use his Palin choice to attack his judgment.
“She stumbled in some interviews, and had a few misjudgments in the glare of the ceaseless spotlight and unblinking cameras,” McCain writes. “Those missteps, too, are on me. She didn’t put herself on the ticket. I did. I asked her to go through an experience that was wearing me down, that wears every candidate down. I made mistakes and misjudgments, too.”
The disastrous White House meeting on the 2008 financial crisis was ‘a waste of time’
McCain’s book also sheds light on another 2008 decision that in retrospect was ill-advised: his September 2008 return to Washington, D.C., as Congress was grappling with the financial meltdown.
With the U.S. financial system in peril thanks to the subprime-mortgage crisis, McCain had already committed a major campaign gaffe that made him seem out of touch, saying that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”
That remark was meant “to say something encouraging that wouldn’t contribute to the spreading panic,” McCain says in “The Restless Wave,” but it “proved colossally impolitic.”
McCain and his campaign advisers knew the housing-related crisis would doom any chance of victory unless McCain could somehow make it appear that he was part of the solution.
Because his reaction to the financial turmoil “wasn’t cutting it,” they “hatched a plan,” in McCain’s words, to propose that he and Obama suspend their campaigns ahead of their first scheduled debate in Oxford, Mississippi, so the two candidates, in conjunction with the White House, could meet with House and Senate leaders to collaborate on a bipartisan “rescue plan that could pass Congress.”
Obama and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., resisted McCain.
“We had the White House meeting. It was a waste of time,” McCain writes. “Harry and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi just stirred the pot, blaming the crisis on Republicans. Barack spoke briefly. I went in knowing the House Republican votes for the rescue package weren’t there. … When asked by President Bush to speak, I said I would defer to the House Republican leader. I should have hogged the floor a little. Minutes after the meeting ended, press accounts quoted anonymous sources claiming I hadn’t had anything to offer.”
The Sept. 25, 2008, White House meeting was worse than a mere waste of time. It perpetuated a perception that McCain was clueless about the economy.
“Our gambit failed and that cost us support we couldn’t afford to lose,” McCain writes. “I wish we hadn’t tried it, but I’ll be damned if I can think of anything else we might have done that could have gained us support or limited the damage the crisis was doing to our campaign, which we were pretty sure would prove mortal.”
In February 2010, McCain told The Arizona Republic’s editorial board that Bush had sought his help to avoid a global economic catastrophe.
“I don’t know of any American, when the president of the United States calls you and tells you something like that, who wouldn’t respond,” McCain said at that time. “And I came back and tried to sit down and work with Republicans and say, ‘What can we do?’ “
McCain’s account in “The Restless Wave” does not mention that anecdote.
Arizona Sen. John McCain insisted on the need for campaign-finance reform and spoke out against pork-barrel spending and government waste. His efforts ruffled feathers in the Senate and earned him the nickname of the ‘maverick.’
McCain is a Reagan, not a Trump or ‘Breitbart,’ Republican
McCain reaffirms his Republican pedigree against far-right detractors who have long-branded him a “RINO,” or Republican In Name Only.
McCain writes in the book that Democrats, including the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, courted him to switch parties in the aftermath of his 2000 loss in the Republican presidential primaries to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who would go on to win the White House that year.
This happened at the height of McCain’s “maverick” period, when he was a reliable thorn in Bush’s side.
“Various enticements were offered, including at some point the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee,” McCain recalls. “Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, joined the discussions. I listened and was flattered, but insisted in every conversation that my differences with Democrats were more numerous than those I had with current Republican orthodoxy. After a while they relented.”
McCain told The Arizona Republic last year that he never seriously considered abandoning the Republican Party.
In the book, McCain acknowledges some “hard feelings” toward Bush after the 2000 election, but adds that he “got over them a lot sooner than many people believed I had, and sooner than the lingering antagonism between our staffs had faded.”
While he disagreed with Bush on some key issues, such as his tax-cut package, McCain says he mostly agreed with Bush and found him likable.
“Last but not least, I was a Republican, a Reagan Republican,” writes McCain, who first entered Congress while President Ronald Reagan held the Oval Office. “Still am. Not a Tea Party Republican. Not a Breitbart Republican. Not a talk radio or Fox News Republican. Not an isolationist, protectionist, immigrant-bashing, scapegoating, get-nothing-useful-done Republican. Not, as I am often dismissed by self-declared ‘real’ conservatives, a RINO, Republican in Name Only.
“I’m a Reagan Republican, a proponent of lower taxes, less government, free markets, free trade, defense readiness, and democratic internationalism.”
Nowicki is The Arizona Republic’s interim national-politics editor. Follow him on Twitter, @dannowicki.
After his 2008 presidential election defeat, John McCain resurrected “the maverick” upon his return to the Senate, opposing President Barack Obama, championing immigration reform and acting as a counterweight to GOP President Donald Trump.
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