Former Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig has mixed feelings as he reflects on the life of longtime colleague Sen. John McCain — a man he respected for his “unquestioned integrity” but considered “difficult to deal with.”
McCain, R-Ariz., died Saturday after battling brain cancer for more than a year. He was 81. Politicians on both sides of the aisle, including members of Idaho’s current congressional delegation and the head of the Gem State’s Democratic Party, have offered glowing assessments of McCain’s character.
Craig appreciated McCain’s thorough understanding of foreign policy and defense matters, and the courage he displayed as a Vietnam War prisoner. Craig said McCain will be “recorded in history” for being the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee.Story continues below video
But for all of his accomplishments, Craig said McCain was never a “team player” — and consequently, had a small circle of friends within his own party. McCain was often at odds with President Donald Trump, notably casting a vote against Trump’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“Many felt he served himself and his own opinions and interests first, and if it happened to fit his colleagues, then it fit,” Craig said.
The Republicans served together in the U.S. House of Representatives in the early 1980s and on the Senate throughout all of Craig’s tenure — from 1991 until Craig’s resignation in 2009.
McCain campaigned on being a political “maverick” during his race for president against Barack Obama. Craig recalled learning first-hand that McCain’s reputation was well earned.
When Craig served as his party’s policy chairman, he never took McCain’s support on any GOP issue for granted.
“I always had to seek him out and ask if he was going to be a player and be a part of it,” Craig said. “If he said yes, he was a man who was very solid in giving his word. If not, I would have to ask why and seek his opinion as to why he would or would not.”
Craig agrees McCain broadened his understanding of issues by “finding value in both sides of the aisle.” Ultimately, however, Craig believes straying too often from his own party stymied McCain from fulfilling his political ambitions.
“At the same time, you have to have a core philosophy from which you govern, and at times, I think John lacked that,” Craig said. “In his presidential campaign, from time to time, he failed to address that core value or philosophy, and I think that hurt him with the core base of the party.”
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, considered McCain a “close personal friend.” Risch said one of his favorite memories with McCain was leading him on a tour of Ernest Hemingway’s Idaho house in Ketchum.
“We spent a number of enjoyable days with him and Cindy in Idaho — time I will always remember fondly and cherish,” Risch said in a press release.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said McCain’s life provides an “unmatched example of sacrifice, duty and dedication.”
“As both a respected member of Congress and a veteran of the U.S. Navy, he truly represented unwavering commitment to the service of his fellow Americans,” Crapo said in a press release. “His imprisonment as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and his hard-fought battle with cancer brought out the true nature of his courage and demonstrated the depth of his character.”
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, described McCain as a hero who dedicated his life to serving his country.
“No one can deny that Sen. John McCain was a force to be recognized,” Simpson said in a press release.
The chairman of Idaho’s Democratic Party, Bert Marley of McCammon, considers it telling that before he died, McCain requested that both former presidents Obama and George W. Bush deliver eulogies at his funeral.
“We need more of that, both in this state and in this country. We need people looking for solutions rather than having a position they’re so adamant about standing by, they can’t work with each other,” Marley said. “I think we lost one of the great ones.”
Trump and Obama also issued statements about McCain.
In a follow-up statement about McCain’s death, issued Monday morning, Trump ordered the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff until McCain’s interment.
“Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Sen. John McCain’s service to our country,” Trump said in the prepared statement.
Obama described how he and the late Arizona senator viewed their political battles as a privilege and “something noble.”
“John McCain and I were members of different generations, came from completely different backgrounds and competed at the highest level of politics,” Obama said in his prepared statement. “But we shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.”