John McCain RIP… A political analysis

John McCain was a genuine hero. A warrior who fought valiantly in Vietnam and maintained his honor despite his imprisonment. His public service continued in the U.S. Senate where he attempted to be a voice of reason in a crazy environment. Sometimes he succeeded, sometimes not.

Nevertheless, he was truly a great man. But that is not what this post is about.

It may seem too early to some to discuss the political implications of McCain’s death, but he was a public figure. He held a seat that makes the Senate Republican. Despite his rhetoric, he did little to stand up to Donald Trump. Except for the health care rejection, he was a reliable vote for the Republican leadership and Trump. So if you like what Trump is doing in Washington, you can at least in part thank John McCain.

He was also a partisan who once described himself as a George Bush Republican. After his defeat for the Republican Senate nomination, he set aside his ego to support the party nominee.

Some, including myself, may view that action as an act of self-sacrifice and honor. However, McCain’s subsequent support of George W. Bush’s candidacy played a part in the start of our endless and pointless war in Iraq. If you like that, you can also thank John McCain. It is part of his legacy.

Finally, despite failing health for the last year, McCain held onto his seat. He couldn’t even attend most Senate sessions. His effort here probably played a greater role in potentially keeping the Senate in the hands of Republicans than virtually anything else.

Consider the following facts. Now that McCain has passed, Arizona state law requires the Governor appoint a successor of the same party. Thus, he will appoint a Republican. The Governor, Doug Ducey, is a traditional Republican, certainly no maverick as McCain fashioned himself. He will appoint someone who is probably even more supportive of Trump’s policies than McCain was.

The way the law works is that an appointed replacement for a Senator is a temporary appointment. That seat must be voted on in the next scheduled election. So you would think that whoever is appointed by the Governor will be up for re-election this year.

That would have been good news for the Democrats. Already, with Jeff Flake’s retirement, the Democrats stand a good chance of picking up a Republican Senate seat there. Had McCain’s seat also been up for re-election, that would have been another great pick-up opportunity for the Democrats this year.

Remember that the Republicans have a very slim 51–49 vote majority in the Senate right now. Nevertheless, despite the “blue wave” some anticipate, the odds are probably against the Democrats winning the Senate since more Democratic incumbents face tough races than Republicans this year. That is just the nature of the Senate.

With so few potential Democratic pick-ups in this election, having another seat in Arizona open would have dramatically increased the odds of a Democratic take-over of the Senate.

Unfortunately, even though this year’s election is the next scheduled election, we are too close to the election for a new race to be added to the ballot. The deadline for that was May 30.

As a result, since John McCain held onto his seat past May 30 despite his inability to do his job toward the end of his life, his seat will be held by a traditional Republican appointed by Arizona’s governor until the 2020 election.

So if you are happy about Trump’s appointments to courts getting confirmed by the Senate, and the Republicans can continue to do so after the 2018 election even if Democrats win the House, you will have John McCain to thank for that.

Just imagine an election in which the Senate is divided 50–50 after 2018. In that case, Vice President Pence would break any ties, thus keeping the Senate in Republican control. Imagine also that the Arizona seat being vacated by Jeff Flake is won by the Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. You could easily imagine that under those circumstances, if John McCain had left the Senate prior to May 30, his seat would also have gone Democratic and the Democrats would hold a majority.

I hate to consider this possibility, but it is, unfortunately, very real. If it comes to pass, part of John McCain’s very impressive legacy will be the continued packing of our courts by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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