Witcover: Hitting bottom in Trumpland

Just when you might have thought moral depravity could not have sunk deeper in the era of Donald Trump, along came a Trump White House underling dismissing the views of iconic Republican Sen. John McCain as irrelevant because "he's dying anyway."

Even worse than that brutally insensitive remark has been the irate lament of Trump administration spokespersons about the leak itself. The slanderer has been identified as one Kelly Sadler, a functionary in the Trump communications apparatus. Is there no honor anymore among thieves?


To readers who have been vacationing on Mars, the slur against Mr. McCain, a Vietnam War hero who was shot down over Hanoi and imprisoned for years, came in the context of his battle against brain cancer. He had questioned the suitability of Trump nominee Gina Haspel to head the CIA because she supervised the now-banned technique of waterboarding on prisoners under interrogation.

While he was a POW, Mr. McCain, now 81, was subjected to repeated questioning as he lay wounded in a North Vietnamese prison. As a candidate in 2016, Mr. Trump mocked him, saying he preferred "people who weren't captured" as war heroes.


To Mr. Trump, Mr. McCain's unforgivable act years later in the Senate was his dramatic return from his sickbed in Arizona to the Senate to cast the deciding vote last year against killing the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which Mr. Trump had vowed to eradicate.

Ms. Sadler is said to have privately apologized to Mr. McCain's daughter and family but has said nothing publicly, nor has the president she works for. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' only comment was, "I'm not going to validate a leak out of a staff meeting, one way or the other."

Others have cried crocodile tears over the whole media dustup, especially the leak, casting it as an act of disloyalty to Team Trump. They act as if the whole matter is just another example of the "fake news" run amuck over a trivial incident, diverting attention from the president's recent diplomatic breakthroughs in his planned meeting with North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un and the release of three American prisoners.

In this presidency of a conspicuously crude and insensitive man who operates on the mantra of Never Apologize no matter how offensive or untruthful his utterances may be, the crime is not the comment; it's the leaking of it from within the Trump fortress.

Through it all, the relative silence from Republican members of Congress, including Mr. McCain's own United States Senate, where he long has been a popular if irascible leader, is both astonishing and deplorable. A few close McCain colleagues, such as South CarolinaSen. Lindsey Graham, have let their disappointment be known.

Perhaps not since the days when Republican Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin roamed the halls of the Senate in the 1950s have members of that once "august body" seemed so cowed by an unfettered bully who temperamentally displays his contempt for those around him as does this president.

The result has been a climate of wide disrespect and greatly diminished willingness to work across party lines across the board on needed legislative actions, and a visible diminution of close personal relationships among many in both the House and Senate.

John McCain for many years now has been regarded as much as anyone else to be the conscience of the Senate, not only in his conservative views but in his personal demeanor -- gruff at times but always with a soft and appealing side.


As one who spent hours with him on his Straight Talk Express campaign bus during his 2008 presidential campaign, and earlier in Arizona Senate races, I have always found him to be openly outspoken and a delightful companion. He has always reveled in ribbing me for being an even older campaign junkie on the bus than himself.

To see him now being so disparagingly dismissed by a younger staff twerp as disposable baggage in his waning but still focused and combative years is particularly painful, made worse by the insensitive silence from the vile man now occupying the Oval Office.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is