McCain On Trump: 'Foolish' To Ignore Will Of GOP Voters

CNN/ Newswire | 5/9/2016, 6 a.m.
Sen. John McCain is chastising GOP leaders for failing to embrace Donald Trump as the choice of millions of voters, ...
Few people know McCain as well as Kerry, who endured another tongue lashing from his old sparring partner in November.

Sen. John McCain is chastising GOP leaders for failing to embrace Donald Trump as the choice of millions of voters, laying out his most extensive views to date about Trump at the top of the ticket. He's also repudiating some of the presumptive nominee's comments -- particularly about prisoners of war.

In a wide-ranging "State of the Union" interview in his campaign office in Phoenix, McCain criticized party leaders who are reluctant to back Trump, saying they are "out of step" with voters who have chosen the controversial businessman as the GOP standard-bearer. He defended Trump for being a strong and "capable" leader, particularly on foreign policy. He called on Trump to choose a running mate who could "unite the party," possibly Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, even as he strongly defended his 2008 choice of Sarah Palin.

But he also urged Trump to "retract" his criticisms of prisoners of war while blasting Trump's personal attacks during the primary campaign as off-putting.

"Frankly, I have never seen the personalization of a campaign like this one, where people's integrity and character are questioned," said McCain, the veteran senator of nearly 30 years and his party's 2008 presidential nominee. "It bothers me a lot. Because you can almost violently disagree with an issue, but to attack their character and their integrity -- then those wounds take a long time to heal."

Asked if Trump should continue calling Hillary Clinton "corrupt Hillary," McCain said: "Well, I wouldn't, but I'm not one to tell him how to campaign except on the part of uniting the party."

McCain, 79, said he'd back the nominee since GOP voters have had their say.

"You have to draw the conclusion that there is some distance, if not a disconnect, between party leaders and members of Congress and the many voters who have selected Donald Trump to be the nominee of the party," McCain said when asked about the comments by House Speaker Paul Ryan and his close friend Sen. Lindsey Graham, both of whom have so far refused to back Trump.

"You have to listen to people that have chosen the nominee of our Republican Party," McCain said. "I think it would be foolish to ignore them."

At the same time, McCain would not commit to appearing on the same campaign stage as Trump, a tacit acknowledgment of the balancing act the Arizona senator needs to perform as he faces re-election this fall. He needs to court Trump backers in a state that the candidate handily won during the primary season, while also reaching out to independents, Latinos and women voters -- many of whom view the real estate mogul unfavorably.

"A lot of things would have to happen," McCain said when asked if he would stump with his party's nominee. He said there'd have to be a condition first: "I think it's important for Donald Trump to express his appreciation for veterans, not John McCain, but veterans who were incarcerated as prisoners of war."