Trump's feuds with McCain and Flake leave students in the middle

ASU's College Republicans divided over whom to support

At a rally in downtown Phoenix last week, President Donald Trump stood behind a lectern and spoke to thousands of Arizonans about job creation, the proposed border wall and his personal distaste for Arizona senators.

"One vote — speak to your senator, please. Speak to your senator,” Trump said, referencing Arizona Sen. John McCain, who along with other Republican defectors voted against the failed Obamacare repeal bill touted by GOP leadership. 

“Nobody wants me to talk about your other senator,” Trump said, referencing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who voted for the healthcare bill but has criticized the president on other policies. “(He's) weak on borders, weak on crime, so I won’t talk about him.”

The next day, Trump continued his criticism of Arizona's senators, this time on Twitter. 


Young Republicans grappled with their president's attacks on their senators at an ASU College Republicans meeting on Aug. 24. Some felt pressured to choose a side.   

Jacob Schuldt, an accounting freshman, said he supports McCain’s dissenting healthcare vote.

“I wholly agree with John McCain to stick by what he thought was right, and if that means President Trump nagging at him in the middle of a rally, then I will still stick with John McCain,” he said.

Trump’s criticisms of McCain date back to the campaign trail. During the summer of 2015, Trump said McCain was "not a war hero" because he was captured in the Vietnam War. 

Regardless of this attack, McCain endorsed Trump for president, only rescinding it after the release of a tape in which Trump, then just a reality star, made lewd statements about women.

McCain has since criticized Trump's policies and behaviors, such as the travel ban and Trump's attacks on the media. Even with his disapproval, McCain has voted for Trump’s agenda 84.8% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.   

Flake has voted in line with President Trump 93.5% of the time. Despite that record, he published a book called "Conscience of a Conservative," in which he condemns President Trump’s brand of conservatism.

Some ASU students believe the infighting between their senators and their president is further eroding the norms of political discourse.   

“I’m old-fashioned,” said Kenneth Klein, a history senior. “I don’t like when people in any way attack each other on Twitter — or any other form.”

Annie Snyder, a business freshman who volunteered on McCain’s 2016 re-election campaign, thinks the president is now targeting Flake because it would be distasteful to disparage McCain after his brain cancer diagnosis.

“He’s dying,” Snyder said. “So when (Trump) just tweeted the other day about the rally the other day, he calls out Flake in his tweet, and I think the only reason he called out Flake is because he can’t call out McCain.”   

Johnny Martin, a religious studies senior, saw a sign at Trump’s rally that sums up his feelings about the feud between the Senators and the President. The sign read, "Hey, Donald Trump, don’t mess with Arizona’s senators. That’s our job."

“I criticize the heck out of McCain and Flake," Martin said. "Love them or hate them, they’re Arizonans. They’re part of our community. Donald Trump is not an Arizonan.”    

 David Wells, a political science professor at ASU, said he believes the president’s vitriol stems from the campaign.

While McCain rescinded his endorsement, Flake never endorsed Trump for president. After the Access Hollywood tape was leaked, Flake tweeted his disapproval.    


“Donald Trump doesn’t like people who didn’t support him,” Wells said. “I think that’s one of the main drivers of it.”   

Wells said such friction between the president and two senators in his party is a new phenomenon. 

“It’s not normal," he said. "They’re Republican senators, and Donald Trump is a Republican so you normally don’t see this ... level of animosity.”

Wells noted that former President Bill Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter both had difficulties with senators from their own parties, but those situations never escalated to what is happening now. 

"But," Wells said, "we didn't have Twitter then."


Reach the reporter at fortesa.latifi@gmail.com or follow @fortesalatifi on Twitter.

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