What did Trump say about McCain?

Death of the US Senator - "McCain prepared the ground for Donald Trump"

John McCain died of cancer over the weekend. He was a war veteran, strictly conservative, stood for the traditional values ​​of the Republican Party, but was also a loner. McCain represented the State of Arizona in the US Senate for over 30 years. He was a critic of the current US President Donald Trump, but made his election possible in the first place, as Christian Lammert, an expert on US politics, points out.

SRF News: What does John McCain's death mean for Republicans?

Christian Lammert: That weakens the traditional values ​​within the republican party, for example that clear positions are formulated. And that one - which was especially important to McCain - stood for the transatlantic alliance, for the idea of ​​the West. Although he was a hardliner in terms of security policy and often caused problems for the European countries with his tough positions, he was a reliable negotiating partner. That is now a bit lost in the party that has supported Trump.

Media reports that an era is coming to an end. Do you share this impression?

You have to enjoy it with caution. There are two aspects to consider. On the one hand, when someone dies, the positive aspects are always emphasized. That's how it should be. So McCain can now also be praised. On the other hand, the praise you read from heads of state from all over the world and in the press is always a judgment on Donald Trump. This is the turning point that shows that the USA has changed under Trump, that there are no more politicians who stand up against him. McCain did this many times. He made moving speeches. He said one had to try to make the US a reliable partner again.

Is now no more criticism from the Republican side to Trump expected?

That is to be feared. From the politicians who are currently at the top of the party, in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, there is absolutely no resistance to the administration's policies. The party is insecure and deeply divided. You don't know for sure whether you're doing better with or without Trump. And as long as one does not find a clear position here and does not clearly articulate the programmatic points with which the party wants to win elections in the future, as long as it is only an election club for Donald Trump.

McCain remembers one thing: For years the Republicans wanted to overturn Obamacare. McCain prevented this at the crucial moment.

Yes, that was very important - especially for his reputation as a politician who is also willing to work across party lines with other political forces if he is convinced of certain positions.

The party position is currently more important than pragmatic politics in the USA.

For him, in some areas it was actually about a certain policy, not about the party position. He has also worked with the Democrats before, for example on environmental policy or campaign finance. He presented himself as an independent politician on major issues and was able to successfully pass laws - sometimes against the will of his own party. This is something extraordinary in the USA. The party position is currently more important than pragmatic politics.

McCain wanted on certain points with the Democrats work together. Is this also a thing of the past?

Yes, this has been the case for a number of years. And here you may have to express some criticism of McCain. He has worked with the Democrats on a number of items on the program. But otherwise, if you look at his voting behavior in the Senate, he was actually a very loyal party soldier. And when parties control the voting behavior of their members in Congress so strongly, it leads to a political blockade.

McCain has made the more radical positions associated with the tea party socially acceptable.

That is a big problem. Because the US system is designed in such a way that you need non-partisan cooperation in order to reach agreement on certain issues. That got lost. This strengthens the office of the president because he can now react more with executive orders.

McCain wanted to become president himself twice. In 2008, his candidate for the vice presidency was Sarah Palin, the figurehead of the Tea Party. What did it mean to his party that he chose her?

It was a turning point, for McCain too. He said at the time: "I have to take into account the split in the Republican Party that has emerged with the formation of the Tea Party, and nominate Sarah Palin as a runner-up."

He has made the more radical positions associated with the tea party socially acceptable - and thus also prepared the ground for Trump's success. There is a direct line between the elections of 2008 and 2016: The protests of the Tea Party have intensified, they have also been instrumentalized, for example by the Koch Brothers, who invested a lot of money to expand the Tea Party movement. This has further split the Republican Party, isolating moderate politicians like McCain. And that, in the end, made Trump possible.

Still, McCain and Trump fell out. Did McCain regret his decision back then?

Yes, he said right after the election that Obama would now also be his new president. This shows that he has tried to rebuild the bridges to the Democrats, which he had previously partially dismantled with Palin's nomination, that he wanted to put that back into perspective. He has - at the latest after seeing that Trump can successfully assert himself - clearly opposed his policies. He has said in several speeches that this is not the policy that the United States actually represents.

I think he realized what he did with that 2008 election campaign. He tried to control the situation, and of course that completely destroyed the relationship between the two. Trump has attacked McCain several times. He didn't want to acknowledge that he was a war hero because he let himself be captured. Even now, Trump did not want to issue a White House statement on McCain's death. As a legacy, McCain said: George W. Bush and Obama should speak at his funeral, but not Donald Trump. Here you can see how deep the resentment between the two was.

Does that mean the Republicans are losing an important conservative comrade, but also a thorn in the flesh of the Trump administration?

That is a very good assessment. McCain was always a very clear conservative. You could rub yourself against him, but he had fixed positions and was reliable in political disputes. One could negotiate with him. Many have also described him as very humorous, which is also very important in politics. I think the transatlantic partners and the Republican Party have lost an important politician.

The interview was conducted by Raphaël Günther.