McCain — not Trump — is out of touch with the modern GOP.
John McCain has taken on the role of his Senate predecessor, Barry Goldwater, in the Republican party. Like Goldwater before him, the Arizona Republican has been around for a long time, and in his latter days he’s seeing his party change, and he doesn’t like the direction it’s going in. For Goldwater, that meant opposition to the encroachment of the religious right into the party. For McCain, that means white nationalism and “alternative facts.” Both Senators put forward the argument that these things serve as an assault on true conservative values.
They’re both wrong, of course.
These things that McCain and Goldwater protested were not flies in the ointment of conservatism. They are modern conservatism. The Republican party has, over the course of several decades, become little more than a vehicle for people to vote to stick it to people they don’t like. The party happily welcomed the Evangelical right, because they were people who were eager to stick it to all kinds of segments of American society, and the GOP was more than happy to accommodate those wishes. And now they’re welcoming white nationalists for the same reason. The things that Donald Trump says are nothing new for the GOP — they’re just expressed with less subtlety than they have been in the past.
McCain, like Goldwater before him, doesn’t want to believe this. To McCain, most Republicans are True Conservatives™ who read the National Review and care about things like lower taxes and fewer regulations, and who think the government should recede entirely from the social realm.
The best counter to this argument that one can present is a look at Trump’s approval ratings. While his overall rating is 41%, his rating with Democrats is 11%, and his rating with independents is 35%, he enjoys an approval rating of 87% with Republicans. Removing the party label doesn’t change that much, as 72% of conservatives approve of Trump, and a whopping 90% of conservative Republicans favor him. Even liberal Republicans hold a 71% favorable view of Trump.
This data really lays bare where the chips fall in today’s GOP. The “National Review-reading intellectual conservative” is heavily outweighed by the “Fueled by spite” variety. Perhaps this explains how Trump won his party’s nomination by attacking everyone else in the party — including John McCain.