Political Profiles: John McCain


John McCain was respected both as a war hero and a ‘maverick’ politician on both sides of the American political divide. Sadly McCain lost his battle with cancer, dying at the age of 81 on the 25th August 2018. 

Prisoner of War

In October 1967 McCain’s mission in Vietnam took a turn for the worse when his plane was shot down. Ejected from his plane, his arms and one of his legs were broken. He landed in a lake in a park in the very city that he had been bombing. A crowd of enraged civilians broke his shoulder and stabbed him in the groin. He was left to suffer in prison for a week before he was allowed treatment from a doctor. Upon learning of McCain’s family’s status in the military, his captors allowed him to walk away as a free man. However, he chose not to break the US Military’s Code of Conduct for Prisoners of War, being confined and tortured in a ‘punishment cell’ for five and a half years in total.

In 2015 Donald Trump caused controversy stating that McCain was:” a war hero ‘cause he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured“.

‘Maverick Politician’

McCain first ran for Congress in 1982 to represent Arizona. He served two terms in the House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate, where he played a prominent role for the last 31 years of his life.

McCain’s conservatism was illustrated by his opposition to abortion and his advocacy of greater defence spending. As the Senators around him became increasingly partisan, McCain’s independent streak became more apparent. Although he supported the Iraq war, his experience as a Prisoner of War informed his decision to vehemently oppose the use of torture by the US following the 9/11 terrorist attack.

McCain led bipartisan calls for the reform and regulation of financing for election candidates to bring about a more level playing field.

McCain’s relationship with President Donald Trump was strained, a notable example being McCain’s vote that killed Republican dreams of Obamacare’s destruction. McCain also condemned Trump’s travel ban, which predominately sought to discriminate against Muslims, labeling this policy as inconsistent with the values of America.

Presidential Campaigns

McCain ran for the presidency in 2000 and in 2008. In 2000 McCain’s anti-establishment campaign was unsuccessful, with George W Bush being carried into the White House. McCain ran again in 2008 against Obama, his ‘ticket’ was balanced by his running mate Sarah Palin, an Alaskan Republican from the right wing ‘Tea Party’.

McCain’s campaign has since been heralded for its respectful tone towards his opponents, a contrast with recent personality politics. When Republican voters spoke of racist conspiracy theories regarding Obama, McCain replied that: “He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

McCain admitted that he regretted his choice of running partner, who bears a greater resemblance to the current leadership of his party. He summed up the current state of the Republican party as: “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems”.


It is notable that the President’s “deepest sympathies” were paid to McCain’s family, rather than commenting on the life of the man that he had a strained relationship with. Former President Obama and his Vice President Joe Biden, posted warmer longer statements, highlighting their respect and friendship, despite their historic political rivalry.

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Politics Editor 2019/20 Studying Politics & International Relations

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