The Making of a Maverick: John McCain and Richard Nixon

John McCain wrote to Richard Nixon in November of 1986 after securing a victory in his first race for US Senate,

“Mr. President, I hope you know that if it had not been for your courageous actions on Christmas of 1972, I might still be languishing in a cell in Hanoi, and I would certainly not have been able to run for the U.S. Senate.”

This was one of many commedations the men had for one another over their decades long friendship.

Their earliest public meeting was in 1973 when President Nixon welcomed home John McCain, along with every other returning Prisoner of War. McCain, who refused early release offered to him because of his father’s high ranking, was a held for over five years in a POW prison in Vietnam.

Five years later, Richard Nixon welcomed McCain and his father, Admiral John McCain, to his home San Clemente, California to celebrate the anniversary of the younger McCain’s release.

Left: President Nixon welcomes home John McCain; Right: President Nixon with John McCain and his father, Admiral John S. McCain

President Nixon had great respect for both men, and spoke at Admiral McCain’s changing of command in Hawaii. The younger McCain noted this as the highlight of his father’s long career.

John McCain respected President Nixon both for his role in ending the war in Vietnam, and his political aptitude.

At the onset of his political career, John McCain requested President Nixon’s advice and counsel in his bid for a newly created Congressional seat in Arizona. Nixon, who is credited with revolutionizing political campaigning with his 1968 presidential bids, encouraged McCain to not be afraid to break from his party leadership when necessary.

Left: Letter from John McCain to President Nixon seeking guidance; Right: President Nixon advises McCain to stake out his own position, even if it differed from the Republican administration.

In his own presidential bid in 2008, John McCain told the American people that he was a maverick, but this was true long before he took public office. He has been noted for steadfast leadership in the battlefield and during his time as a POW. President Nixon encouraged McCain to bring this same persistence, individualism, and sense of self-determination to Washington.

When John McCain sought election to the U.S. Senate after serving several years in the U.S. House, President Nixon was confident he would not only be successful in winning the seat, but would have a robust career there.

“I am confident that not only will you win but you will have a long and distinguished career in the senate. ”

John McCain would go on to serve in the Senate for over thirty years.

After President Nixon’s death in 1994, Senator McCain again asserted his respect, admiration, and personal gratitude for the President he credited with his safe return from Vietnam.

“I have always credited him with securing my release from North Vietnam,” McCain said in a statement. “I have always been deeply grateful to him for my freedom.”

President Nixon’s daughters Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower released the following statement on the passing of Senator McCain:

Yorba Linda, CA — Senator John McCain exemplified the triumph of the human spirit. He will be remembered for his lifelong devotion to his country, including more than five years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam. Our father always admired the incredible strength and sacrifice of the Vietnam POWs, and Senator McCain’s bravery represented the best of America.
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