Last night Senator John McCain managed to fool everyone on both sides, simply by voting precisely how he said he’d vote all along. Who does that? What kind of game is that? Since when do politicians keep their word? When has the “Maverick” ever not changed his mind midstream? And yet, in perhaps his final major act in politics, McCain managed to catch everyone off guard yet again, just by doing what he said he’d do. And yet there was far more to it than met the eye.
Consider, for instance, that the ultimate outcome would have been the same if John McCain had simply remained in the hospital. In fact the entire ill-fated TrumpCare fiasco would have died three days sooner. McCain made a point of showing up and voting to open the debate just so he could defeat the whole thing in the end. Did he want credit for killing such an unpopular bill? Did he want to teach Mitch McConnell a lesson about violating Senate rules? Did he just want to stick it to Donald Trump one last time? Who knows. But he wanted to make a point.
Not only that, McCain must have known that he was tricking his own Republican Party into a false sense of security just by showing up. McConnell was overconfident enough to go ahead and schedule a late night vote under the assumption that he’d be able to slip the widely despised legislation through while the nation was sleeping. Mike Pence came over to the Capitol in the middle of the night to break a tie that he only thought would exist. It’s not that McCain lied to them; they just assumed that he wouldn’t have bothered showing up if he were going to ultimately vote no.
And then there was Lindsey Graham, who had spent all week railing against how awful this latest TrumpCare bill was. In the end, just before the roll call began, Graham gave a visible thumbs-up. What was he signaling? Then he inexplicably voted yes on a bill he wanted to see fail. And now we know why: by voting yes, he made certain his dear friend John McCain would get the credit for being the deciding “no” vote. The thumbs-up must have been a signal to McCain that the two of them had just managed to pull the whole thing off. And in the end everyone but the two of them, both in the chamber and at home, was stunned – even though John McCain had just done what he’d spent all week telling us all he would do.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report