John McCain (Winter 2000)

During my freshman year of college, a hall mate asked what I was up to.

It was a weeknight. I had homework. I was ready to get talked into something.

My hall mate was really into politics and invited me to go to the local airport because a politician was going to make an appearance there later that night. I wasn’t politically active then, but it beat reading Thomas More’s Utopia. Plus, there was going to be free beer.

I honestly don’t remember much from that evening. I found this Weekly Standard article by renowned asshole Tucker Carlson that recounts the events better than I could. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s three in the morning and hundreds of people are dancing inside a hangar at the Greenville-Spartanburg airport. Thundering techno-pop-disco-soul music blasts from enormous speakers in the corners. Spotlights cut through a haze of smoke to project purple and blue psychedelic designs onto a back wall. There’s a small hot-air balloon tethered near the door, a Greyhound-sized tour bus festooned with bunting parked across the concrete floor. The air smells like beer and cigarettes and sweat. No one in the room seems to be over 22. A lot of them are jumping up and down drunkenly in place and shouting: “John McCain! John McCain!”

For the reporters wandering in, bleary-eyed from hours on a charter flight from Manchester, it’s like stumbling upon some weird, secret Southern ritual. John McCain has just won the New Hampshire primary, and this is supposed to be his first post-victory political rally. Instead it feels like an after-hours rave. Or intermission at a Dead show. It feels subversive.

And, in a way, it is. John McCain has been running for president for about a year. Scores of reporters have written hundreds of stories about his campaign, most of them positive, many of them fawning. Yet in that time virtually nobody who covered McCain — or even who worked for him — seemed to believe that McCain had a chance of beating George W. Bush for the Republican nomination, much less of becoming president. The perception began to change shortly after lunch on primary day. The first exit polls came in around 1:00, and immediately caused mild panic at McCain headquarters. The data seemed to show McCain with as much as a 20-point lead over Bush. McCain strategists assumed that the numbers must be ridiculous, and worried that a subsequent 5-point victory (widely considered optimistic the day before) would look like failure by comparison.

As it turned out, McCain won the primary by 19 points. CNN declared him the winner at 7:00 P.M. Minutes later, Bush guru Karl Rove called McCain’s hotel room to concede. John Weaver, McCain’s political director, scoffed when he heard Rove was on the line. Weaver detests Rove, and was irritated by what he considered the arrogance of the call. “Tell him that consultants don’t concede to candidates,” Weaver said to an aide. “Have Bush call himself.” Bush soon did.

As I write this, John McCain’s casket is on its way from Arizona to DC for burial. I didn’t agree with him on everything, but as others have extensively noted, he served his country well.

1936-2018