Last week Senator John McCain (R-AZ) flew to Washington from Arizona where he was receiving treatment for a brain tumor for the final votes on repealing the Affordable Care Act. He gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate in favor of a return to political order and political debates based on arguments rather than duels. He then voted for the motion to proceed with debate on efforts to real the ACA, and ultimately voted against the bill.
For this he was called an “American hero”, “an impassioned prophet”, part of “a desperate effort to win at any cost”, and a man who “voted with his soul.” All of these may be accurate descriptions of the Senator, a politician who has devoted his life to public service.
It is also true that the Affordable Care Act is increasingly popular and the Republican alternatives increasingly unpopular. The Senator voted to keep something people liked and against something people didn’t like, an action for which many of his Republican should be grateful because it saved them from passing a bill no one wanted. In voting against the ACA repeal bill, the Senator voted against the President, who of course is also a Republican. In a time of party before policy, that counts as a bold move. It is also true that the President was elected with a minority of the popular vote and his support has gone steadily downhill since – Senator McCain opposed someone whose popularity is on the express train to oblivion. At the same time, Arizona’s governor, a conservative Republican named Doug Ducey, sent Senator McCain a letter opposing the Republican proposal. Senator McCain’s political choices were to vote for an unpopular bill supported by an unpopular President that would undo a popular law, or side with most Americans and his own governor. A political no-brainer.
Senator McCain might have acted as he did without any consideration of the politics, but I doubt it. He is a successful politician; thinking about politics is what he does. If politics were part of decision making, that is great news for the supporters of the ACA and for opponents of Trump in general. (It is worth noting that Democratic Senators from states Trump won never wavered in their opposition to the Republican bill). The politics of Senator McCain’s vote is one more indication that keeping, and working to improve, the ACA is the politically smart place to be.