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tv   Frontline  PBS  April 18, 2018 4:00am-5:00am PDT

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>> narrator: tonight... t our deliberations are more partisan than at ae that i can remember... >> narrator: the life and politics of a maverick... >> john mccain fused together two almost opposing concep. he is all about duty and he is all about dissent. >> narrator: ...and wh tells us about america today. >> in some ways, mccain is ar pion the politics i think we're going to get, and in some ways i think he's the last ofng breed of somete're losing. >> narrator: tonight on "frontline," "mccain." >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for
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public broadcasting. major supporis provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committede to building a ust, verdant and peaceful world. more information is ailable at additional support is provided by the abrams founda committed to excellence in journalism. the park foundation, dedicated to heighteningublic awareness of critical issues. the john and helen glessner family trust. supporting trustworthy journalism tt informs and inspires. and by the frontline journalism fund, with major support fm jon and jo ann hagler. >> this is a big day... can't underestimate... >> narrator: on july 27, 2017... >> the senate ischeduled to vote on the latest version of the bill to replace obamacare... >> they're going to be there all night, what's called a vote-a-rama.
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>> narrator: washington was closely watching senator john mccain. >> a vote on healthcare, a vote that... >> narrator: he was the key vote on president trump's first major legislative initiative: a repeal of obamacare. >> every time we saw him, it was like, "do you know how you're going to vote? do you know how you're going to vote?" and he was grouchier and grouchier as the day went on, as he sometimes gets. and he just said, "stay tuned," you know? it was sort of like... he kind of was even saying, "watch the vote. it'll be a show." >> he is expected to return to erpitol hill today... >> narrator: just week before, mccain had been diagnosed with a deadly form of brain cancer. >> everybody knew, at that point, it came down to, of all people, john mccain, the one whn had been figwith the president, who had been a maverick, as he portrayedhi elf all these years. and all eyes are on him. >> today senators are voting on a repeal-only plan... >> g.o.p. leaders... >> narrator: it all came down to one vo, on one night, at 1:30 in the morning. it was the most dramati night on the senate floor i had seen in all my years up the.
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>> mr. barrasso... >> the vote's ticking away, thea vote's tickiy, and mccain's on the floor, but he's not voting. >> mr. blunt... >> it was perfect manifestation of john mccain's career, that it would fall to him, in the middle of he night, der final judgment on president trump's major legislative initiative. >> narrator: fellow republican senator susan collins had been pushing mccain to vote against the bill trump was backing. >> lisa murkowski and i knew that he had reservations. we were talking with him abo the bill, and all of a sudden, he pointed to both of us and he said, "you know, you two are right." it was then that i felt a tap on my shouer, and i turned around, and it was vice president pence. >> narrator: pence had come to pressure mccain to support the president. >> the vice president stood toe- to-toe with john mccain, and he
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was in his space, it was very close. they went on for, i don't know, it seemed like 15 or 20 minutes, back and forth, back and forth. >> one of the things i most admire about john mccain is, he cannot be intimidated by anyone or anything. >> he knew he had the power to oable trump's presidency, to give him a new lealife, or to ensure a critical defeatre early in hisdency. >> vice president pence turned on his heel and walked away. >> narrator: and then it was time for mccain to vote... >> you saw mitch mcconnell looking more and more unhappy, his arms were closed. and you could tell from the body language on the republican side that ty were very worried. an john mccain walks up to where the vote clerks arhe lifts his hand very dramatically... >> mrs. erns >> he knew that this was his one atst chance to really take a stand, capture then's imagination in the process, but
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also remind his party that they have to do things differently. >> narrator: mccain, with a thumbs-down gesture, shocked the chamber. >> no. (gasping, light applause) >> you could hear audible gasps in the chamber. and those gasps of surprise me from both sides of the aisle. >> n (gasping, light applau) >> this was john mccain as people have come to know himov decades in public service. and it sort of stood out as kine of this tic culmination of the career that he has had in washington. >> in a shocking vote, senator john mccain delivered a death blow. >> narrator: president trump was furious. >> he tends to lash out most bitterly in those moments. and with john mccain's thumbs-o downte, he just watched six months of his presidency kind of evapate into nothingness-- he'd gotten nothing, nothing done in that time.
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nt usedator: the presi the weight of his office to try to punish mccain. >> president trump is holding a make america great again rally in phoenix... >> narrator: the occasion was a rally in mccain's home state. >> a campaign-style event tonight. >> narrator:ere in mccain country, trump took him on. >> they all said, "please, mr. president, don't menny names." (crowd cheering). so i won i won't. (crowd cheering)ju we wer one vote away fromor viafter seven years of everybody proclaiming, "repeal and replace." one vote away. >> he criticizes john mccain, who at this point has been diagnosed with brain cancer, not by name, but it's clear who he's criticizing. >> one vote. no, i will not mention anyme very presidential, isn't it? very presidential. >> narrator: trump had been targeting mccain for years.nj
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>> @nmccain should be defeated in the primaries. graduated last in his class at annapolis-- dummy! (computerized tweet sound) >> narrator: he portrayed mccain as a symbol of the oldan repuarty... >> retweet: mccain epitomizes the career politicians who have gotten us into our $19 trillionc train (computerized tweet sound) >> narrator: trump attacked him as a failed presidential candidate... >> john mccain let us down by losing to barack obama in his rufor president! (computerized tweet sound) >> narrator: and trump expressed his personal disdain. >> retweet: senjohnmccain is alwaysalking, talking but nothing gets done. (computerized tweet sound) >> let's stop insulting each other. >> right, yes. >> let's start respecting... >> what heid was, he fired up the crazies... >> narrator: and for his part,ad mccainno secret of his distaste for trump. >> we need to have a kinder, more respectfudebate, not whether somebody is a jerk or not. g donald trump is everyth john mccain doesn't like. he's not someone who's served in the military. he's not somebody who had given to his country in any serious
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foin, it's sort of, i think, a pretty sour moment in politics. >> because i don't like losers. (laughter) >> narrator: trump even attacked mccain's record as a vietnam veteran. >> he's not a war hero. >> he's a war hero. >> he's a war hero... >> five-and-a-half years >> he's a war hero because he was captured. i like people that weren't captured, okay?ou i hate to tell >> do you agree with that? >> he's a war hero because he was captured. okay? >> republican senato mccain challenged president trump... >> narrator: it was not theoh first timemccain had clashed with a powerful political rival... >> john mccain, maverick of, legeerged... >> narrator: ...his more than three-decade career defined by conflict with his own >> john mccain, of course, a frequent critic of president ama's foreign policy... >> narrator: a self-styled maverick in an increasingly partisan washington. >> narrator: john mcin had been a public figure since that day he was captured in north vietnam when he was 31. >> i was on a flight over the city of hanoi.
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and i was bombing and was hit by either a missile or anti-aircraft fire, i'm not sure which. >> he landed in a lake in hanoi, went down, someho managed with his teeth, 'cause his arms were, like, all screwed upto pull the plug that caused the life, life vest to inflate. >> narrator: mccain wrote about it in his autobiography, "faith of my fathers." >> "a crowd of several hundred vietnamese gathered around me as i lay dazed before tm, shouting wildly at me, stripping my clothes off, spitting on me, kicking and striking me repeatedly."i ans picked up by some north vietnamese and taken to the hospital, where i almost died. >> john wouldn't go to sleep. he's in a cast, his eyes are
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feverish. he's in bad, bad shape. i thought he was going to die. >> what is your name? >> lieutenant commander john mccain. >> narrator: the north vietnamese had discoveredot mccain wasust any captive. >> may i know who is your father? could you name him and tell me who is..., >> ys name is admiral john mccain and he's in london, england, now. >> doing what? >> he's commander-in-chief of u.s. naval forces in europe. >> narrator: mccain's father c.uld soon be in charge of all forces in the paci >> john was a prize. they rerred to him as "the prince." "we've got the princ" >> they realize that they have this exceptional public relations tool. and they say to him, "a-ha! you're the crown prince." >> narrator: the crown prince's grandfather-- they called him dmpopeye-- was a legendaryal in world war ii, here posing
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with mccain's father in japan on the day the japanese surrendered. with the family legacy of service and ty, mccain reluctantly had followed them to the naval academy. >> "i was an arrogant, undisciplined, insolent midshipman who felt itecessary to prove my mettle by challenging authority." >> he graduated fifth from thehi bottom oclass, and he managed to accumulate, as he calls it, a very impressive catalogue of demers. >> he may not have wanted to go to the naval academy, but he got in because of who his dad was. he didn't get thrown out because of who his dad was, despite his best efforts. and everything in his life was because of what his last name was. >> it's hard to grow up in a family with the military legacy that his family had. i mean, it goes back to george washington's general staff. that stuff is there, it's like osmosis. so john's t all of this. then he goes and gets shot down. and now he's almost dead. and he fights to survive. >> how many raids haveone until the last one?
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>> about 23. >> narrator: mccain says he made a decision. he would compromise with his n ptors: cooperate with this interview in retr medical attention and a chance to send a message to his wife. >> if you have anything to say to the people you love and the people w love you, please tell it now. this time is yours.>> sighs) (voice breaking): i would just like to tell.. my wife i'll get well. (crying) and i love her and hope toee her soon. and i'd appreciate it if you'd tell her. n rator: before long, the north vietnamese wanted even more-- a confession of war crimes, something mccain was duty-bound not to give them. he refused and was beaten. >> "the prick came in with
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two other guards, lifted me to my ft, and gave me the worst beating i had yet experienced. they left me lying on the floor, moaning from the stabbing pain in my fractured arm." >> there was the sheer pain of it, and the deprivation and the humiliation. it's a horrible experience. we had to endure it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for five, six, seven, eight, nine years. >> narrator: fearing he would break under torture, mccain saw only one way to avoid dionor-- suicide. >> "despairing of any relief from pain and further torture, and fearing the close approach of my moment of dishonor, i tried to take my life. with my right arm, i pushed my shirt through one of the upper shutte and back through a bottom shutter. as i looped it around my neck, the prick saw the shirt through the window. he pulled me off the bucket and beat me." >> we wanted to take our lives because we coun't take the
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pain. and if we couldn't take the pain, we were scared to death we'd do something to hurt our country. >> narrator: he had failed to kill himself.ed they contio beat him. eventually, john mccain gave up. they would get their confession. >> "finally, they had me sig the document. the next morning, they ordered me to record my confession on tape. i refused, and was beaten until i consented."ar >>tor: he believed he had dishonored his country and disgraced his family. >> we all feel guilty because the code of conduct says you'll give only name, rank, serial number, and date of birth. and john wayne, of course, could do that, because he was tough and he could spit in their eye and get away with it. well, the real wld is this: you can get information from people. (mccain on tape): >> narrator: and they did. (mccain on tape):
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>> narrator: the confession was broadcast as north vietnamese opaganda. (mccain on tape): "i couldn't rationalize away my confession. i was hamed. i felt faithless, and couldn't control my despair. reshook as if my disgrace a fever." >> he was quite disconsolate. but it was the guy in the cell next to him who told him he had done the best he could, gather his strength, go back at them the next and k that was... that was the great moment of self-discovery for him. >> he realizes, you know, what is important in life. you know, you really have to count on yourself. you have to lean on the guy next to you, and he has to be able to lean on you and depend on you. some very, very basic, core, fundamental things in life that some people go through their whole lives and never learn, he learned at a relativelyy eae. and i think he went from being probably a really cocky s.o.b. to being a fellow who's pretty well-grounded in wha important in life.
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>> narrator: mccain's fellow point to a k event in his detention. with his father about to take arge of the pacific command, including the war in vietnam,as mccainffered special treatment: an early release. >> mccain believed that this was an effort on the part of the north vietnamese to embarrass his father, to show the son of a high-ranking admiral being released and having special privileges. and, you know, so basi mccain smelled a rat. >> narrator: this time, mccain did not give in. >> he's got a family legacy. again, it's about nor, it's about those obligations-- spoken or sworn to-- that you just don't do things like tt. >> narrator: in the end, it would be nearly five more years before john mccain was released. >> we today have concluded an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor in vietnam.
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>> john sidney mccain. >> narrator: the effects of the tortand his injuries would remain. d.'d never be able to raise his arms above his hea he was a former p.o.w., a warit hero, a cele so the navy put him right out ont with the politicians. >> when members of congressth travel usually have a captain or colonel as escort officer, and john was our escort officer on several trips. >> he was just fun to be with. and he had a sensef derring-do and, "let's go do some things. let's hop on a plane, let's go to such and such a count." >> rather quickly, he becomes friends wi some of the younger senators: gary hart, bill cohen, later secretary of defen. >> we would hit a couple of bars and have some beers together. it was mostly three relatively young guys who were having a go time together.
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>> narrator: after a while, mccain decided he wanted to join the club. >> he was a bright, sharp guy, and i'm sure he looked aroundoy and said, if these guys can do this, i can do this." >> narrator: the congress john mccain wanted to join was very different from the one today. he got to know a young staffer in bill cohen's office: susan collins. >> when john was the navy liaison, he saw a congress that worked much moreat collabely, that was far less partisan, and that got more done. >> republicans and democrats saw each other as colleagues, not enemies. c and it wouor his view. it would shape his view of how washington should work for the rest of his career. >> narrator: but before getting intoolitics, mccain rearrang his personal life. his wife, carol, had difully waited through the p.o.w. years. a former model, she'd been severely crippled in a car accident whileccain was in
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vietnam. but soon the couple would divorce. >> "my marriage's collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity more than it was to vietnam, and i cannot escape blame by pointing finger at the war. the blame was entirely mine." >> narrator: he was known to have an eye for women and a taste for e high life. one night in hawaii, he found what he was looking for. >> it was love at first sight, and that was it. he said, "i met a gal that you've just got to meet." and he said, "i think this is the gal i'm in love with." well, that was it. >> bill cohen and i were members of his wedding party when he and cindy were married in arizona. >> narrator: cindy's father owned a lucrative beer distributorship in arizona. he was rich and connected. soon john mccain would be, t. >> for me, it was natural sayi, "you're in love with this young woman from arizona. you're a conservative.
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arizona's a conservative state. go run in arizona. you'll have your family there and that will be the bis where you'll start." >> john mccain has energy and optimism. just what we want! his leaderip is giving us something precious: hope for the future! >> narrator: he ran as an old- fashioned, pragmatic, small government conservative. >> ♪ america... >> narrator: he won a congressional election and then barry gdwater's former seat in the senate. >> (crowd chanting): johnca ! john mccain! >> narrator: mccain adjustedic y to ronald reagan and george h.w. bush's washington, where republicans often worked with democrats to pass legislatio >> i worked here in the senate 40 years ago as a staff member. if you did a scatter plot of the voting records of the hundre senators, there were at least 20 who overlapped, more liberal republicans-- there's a term you
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don't hear much anymore-- and conservative democrats. >> narrator: in that environment, john mccain's star was rising. but then his careewas nearly derailed. >> never before have five senators been accuseof intervening with federal regulators... .. the keating five-- four democratic senator >> everything is going great, and then, bam, this scandal hits, and even by to standards, it was a big scandal involving five very important members of the united states senate. w >> thest financial scandal in u.s. history... >> narrator: at the center of the scandal was mcin's friend and contributor charles keating, an arizona high-roller and the owner of a failed savings and loan. >> mccain understands, and he'll admit, that when his obituary is written, the keating scandal will be somewhere high in the obituary. and so he understands the dark stain that that had on his career. he understands that. >> narrator: mccain and four other senators were accused ofnm pressuring govt regulators to back off of keating and his
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bank. >> and it got to the core of the things that john mccain cares about most--is personal integrity, his honesty. it got to the very core of what is most important to him. >> i seek a speedy and just resolution to this process, and i will continue to cooperate and erassist the committee in way possible. >> he was angry about it. he was hurt by it, he felt guilty by it. >> narrator: mccain decided what he called "straight talk" was called for. >> and he says, "so from this day forward," he says, "we're going to take every interview that we can take. we're going to prioritize arizona media over nationalll media, but wo them all." ♪ >> this man is a united states senator and you are out to here him say something that very few senators have everor said b listen carefully. >> it was a very seriousrt mistake on my the appearance of a meeting with five senators was bad and wrong and i agonized it over the me. >> this was the beginning of a
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pattern that he has developed at momentof crisis. he'll stand there until the last reporter sits down. and i think it's worked very well for him. >> narrator: the press backed off and the congress all but cleared him of wrongdoing.>> senator mccain has violated no law of the uniteds or specific rule of the united states senate. >> narrator: they said he was guilty of poor judgment. >> most people said, after having gone through what he went through in the keating five, that's it. his chances of any national office are over, are done with. and by the way, he's probably not going to be very successful in the united statese. he proved them wrong. his life has been proving people wrong. >> narrator: in the wake of the scandal, mccain began to repair his political age. >> he will survive a vietnamese anisoner-of-war camp, he will survive political l, and he is relentless. nothing will stop him no matter how many times he trips up. >> but the republican party was onanging around mccain. >> one of the mostntious elections...
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>> ...a few sweet moments for the democrats... >> the republican revolution of election '94 shook capital hill. >> the '94 elections had fundamentally changed the nature of the republican party. so you had the gingrich revolution, which had created t e idea of a party with a much harder edge thand been prior to that, whether it was george h.w. bush or ronald reagan. >> there could be a fundamental shift in the american... >> this is the first time the party has been in the majority... >> narrator: the leader of the pay was now speaker of the house newt gingrich. the republicans were becoming more ideological s d mccain didn't fit. >> i think mccain really deep, desperate sense of marching to his own drummer. and what that means, at one i levethat it expresses itself sometimes in a need to s.go kick people in the sh and he occasionally adopts an idea which is abhorrent torn moonservatism. >> narrator: mccain would chart his own course as an independent-minded republican: a champion of campaign finance
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reform, a supporter of environmental protections, and he wasn't afraid to take on the religious right.ei >>er party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of american politics and the agents of intolerance,hether they be louis farrakhan or al sharpton o the left or pat roberts jerry falwell on the right.(a lause and cheering) ha >> mccaicalled leaders of the christian right "agents of intolerance." this was a phrase neverrg ten. >> mccain was willing to go into battle with his base on issu after issue. w was still a conservative republican, but more willing to break from the party mainstream than almost any other national g.o.p. leader. >> this morning, the candida are already in new hampshire... >> with the caucuses behind them, the presidential candidates... >> narrator: by 2000, with a national reputation as a maverick and reformer... >> the g.o.p. hopeful who left iowa far, far behind.. >> narrator: john mccain had decided to run for president.
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>> john lt there might be a grassroots, populist rebellion brewing about reforming government, reforming the campaign system. so he decided to do it. at >> a look ohn mccain, on the trail and in the lead... it's helped him steadily win a bigger and bigger slice of the republican electorate... narrator: he ran an insurgent campaign out of a bus he called the "straight talk express," challenging the establishment favorite george w. bush. >> would you instruct the party not to take any money from the tobacco... >> i would instruct the party not to take any soft money, and that's tobacco, steel, whoever it is. >> to beat george w. bush in the republican primariesn 2000, you had to make a virtue of what was at your disposal. what was at his disposal was this great personality and this great sense of humor and this true reformer, maverick spirit. and the decision was to go out and put it on dilay. >> i'll be satisfied with whatever the voters decide. thank you. okay, guys.e >> narrator: hd put together
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a coalition of moderates and independents, and in a key primary, he upset george w. bush. >> victory over the favorite son... >> been an extraordinary political day as the voters of nehampshire have spoken... >> the mccain win was so overwhelming, the fact that he won in every demographic... >> the primary night itself, i think he loved it. i think he loved the experience of new hampshire. >> (crowd chanting): john mccain! >> narrator: mccain's victory sent shockwaves through the bush campaign and the party establishmen >> people don't realize how much the republican establishment was nervous about john mccain. they really did not think they could control him. and at's why we saw so much power, wealth, and focus go against him in south carolina. it was incredible. (tires screech >> narrator: just over two weeks lar, in south carolina, the establishment and the bush team struck back. >> things happened in south carolina that were pretty ugly. south carolina's got a long tradition of being very tough.
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listen, politics is a tough, toh, tough sport and there no tougher than south carolina in america. >> narrator: bush allies orchestrated a bitter underground attack designed to appeal to the republican base. >> it was a series of attacks, person life distorted, political record distorted. it's a real smear campaign, but it hurt. >> thereere rumors all over the state that mccain had fathered a black child out of wedlock, a that his wife, cindy, was a drug addict. >> narrator: mccain's daughter idget was adopted from bangladesh, and cindy mccain had been open about how she had overco a prescription drug addiction. >> it's just despicable. what they did was spicable. i think they were desperate. and if you think abo had bush lost south carolina, it was over for george bush. >> and it's wrong, and it's wrong.
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my friends, this is what's going on around here. >> you saw more and more anger from senator mccain himself, who was openly frustted and angry s out the ads against him, the attacks against fe. and you could also sense that he wasn sure what to do about i that he had a conflict within him over how hard he pushed back. >> narrator: some mccain staff wanted to coterattack, to fight fire with fire. but mccain wasn't willing. >> he is a scrapper and a battler, but he did not want to battle on those terms in south carolina at thatoint. he wasn't going to do it in the way that he felt was being done him. he wasn't going to answer in kind. >> john mccain brought hissu rgent presidential campaign to an end today. >> narrator: he would gon to lose by almost 12 points. >> w. bush... >>narrator: before long, he shue down hisdential campaign. george w. bush went on to win the presidency. >> the president-elect, george te bush, will become the 43rd president of the ustates. >> narrator: as john mccain
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returned to the senate, to many, republice was an outsider. >> it had been bad for him in the republican ccus. he had been booed at one point when he walked in. he really felt like these are not the guys he was comfortable with. they didn't have that much in common. he was really a bitter man in those days. >> he was angry for the way he was treated. he was angry because his staff were not asked to be part ofne thadministration. he was angry, because he thought george bush was playing to the most conservative elemen within his own party. and for all those reasons, he felt alienated >> narrator: mccain positioned himself as the voice of dissent in bush's republican. >> mccain came out of the 2000 cataign drawn to the idea t he had become a brand. s he representething to the american public of independence, pragtism, bipartisanship, an he moved very aggressively to maximize the leverage of the brand legislatively. >> narrator: mccain fought the bush administration's tax cuts
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as benefiting the wealthy. and while he supported the iraq war, he criticized the prident's strategy as inadequate. >> demonstrators gathered outside iraq's abu ghraib protting treatment... >> narrator: but it was the abuse of iraqi prisoners by american soldiers at abu ghraib that most enraged the former p.o.w. >> he was incensed. he tught it was shameful. >> i'm gravely concerned that many americans will have the same impulse as i did when iaw this picture, and that's to turn away from them. and we risk losing public support for this conflict. as americans turned away fromet the m war, they may turn away from this one. now, mr. sretary, i'd like to know, what were the instructions to the guards? >> that is what the investigation that i've indicated has been undertaken is determining. >> but mr. secretary, that's a very simple, straightforward
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woestion. >> narrator: mccaid insist the bush administration change its policy on torture. >> this isn't about who they are, it's about who we are. and these are values that distinguish us from our enemies. >> narrator: he'd been fighting with the bush administration for years, but as the 2008 election apoached, mccain still had ambitions to be president. >> it kes a while until he kind of comes around to the idea that, for his own interest, he needs to find a way to reconle with the president, and reconcile with the party. it is, at this point, george bush's party. >> narrator: first, he would w make peah george w. bush. >> if he could forgive and make peace with the leade of northtu vietnam, who td him for six years, it wasn't that hardve to getit and make reconciliation with george bush. >> is this the best the republicans can do? >> are any of you tempted to vote for the mccain ticket?
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>> narrator: even more challenging, mccain had to win over the republican voters who had rejected him last time. >> and if he wants those votes... >> he decided that to become the nominee, he had to make peace with the bush wing of the party and with people who are avid bush supporters. and he set out to do so. >> narrator: he even embraced reverend jerry falwell, the founder of the evangelical liberty university, a man he had previously called an "agent of intolerance." >> reverend falwell came to see ehm, said, you know, "put our past differencesd us, our acrimony behind us," or something. and then asked him on the spot if he would consider giving the commencement address at liberty. and he responded on the spot, "sure." >> senator! aiheard this crazy story that senator john mccis giving the commencement address at jerry falwell's univerty. >> well, before i bring on my two attorneys, i'd like to... (laughter and applause)
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>> don't... don't make me love you! >> it cut against everything that mccain had donend said up to that point. >> why i did it is because ofha the factmy kids said, "why haven't you been on the jon stewart show lately?" and i figured that was the best way to do that. >> senator! >> john mccain is a politian. he's been elected to the senate. he'snvolved in politics. he understands that yesterday's battles are yesterday's battles, and if you'reoing to win tomorrow's, you may have to do things differently. >> so, you freaking out on us? 'cause if you're freaking out and you're going into the crazyd base w. are you going into crazy base world? >> i'm afraid... i'm afraid so. >> mccain has demonstrated both a temperamental inclination and a real ability over the course of his political life to, to do things that are politically expedient, and at the same timew
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signh a sense of irony and detachment that he doesn't really like doing it. that, in a sense, he being forced by political necessity to do it. >> narrator: by the first republican presidential primary in new hampshire, it looked like mccain was on the right track. m past the age when i can claim the noun "kid" no matter what adjective precedes it. but tonight we sure showed them what a comeback looks like! (cheers and applause) >> narrator: mccain had positioned himself as the heir apparent to george w. bush, but there was a growing problem. the party was changing, theid prt's support among the base deteriorating.>> o republican wants to be the third term of george w. bush. he is a radioactivfigure at that point for the party. and they are divided over what the party should stand for at this point. >> mccain, frankly, has shown
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conservatives little but contempt... >> narrator: inside theic repu party, a rebellion was underway, and mccain-- nowis the estaent candidate-- was a target. >> i think john mccain has a big problem with conservatives. >> narrator: they called him a rino-- republican in name only. >> he's confusing republicansal with his libriends... >> ...reach out to democrats... >> how's this guy going to unite his party? what's he going to do? rush limbaugh's out there on the radio every day telling people they be crazy to vote for th guy. >> narrator: t opposition to mccain came to a head here-- at the annual meeting of cpac, e conservative political action conference. they reluctantly agreed to hear john mccain plead for their support. (crowd booing) >> i've never seen an instance o ersomebody in his position who is the de factader of the party heading into the next election, walks into an audience like that and gets the kind of boos that he got. (booing continues)
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i mean, it was extraordinary to hear it. it'snot as though everybody i the audience was booing, but it was loud and it was real. >> it's been a little while since i've had the honor of addressing you, and i appreciaty uch your courtesy to me today. you know, we should do this more often. (laughter, light applause) >> john want to make the case that, "here's who i on judges, here's who i am on taxes. i believe in limited government. here's why i fight earmarking. earmarking is corruption of government." >> i believe today, as i believed 25 yes ago, in small governme, fiscal discipline, low taxes, a strong defense,ho judgesnform and not make our laws... >> it's like the thinnes balancbeam that's probably existed, because on one side, he's trying to still retain the, "i'm the independent, i'm the moderate, i can appeal, i'm the maverick." s on the othe is, "you can trust me, i'm a good republican." >> i am pro-life and an ad for the rights of man everywhere
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in the world. i will never waver in thati convictionomise you. >> that day was a reminder that he still had a considerable amount of work to do with the conservative base of the party. >> thank you and god bless you. (cheers and applause) >> i think what mccain did, which almost killed him, was, he tried to become mr. insider, and he tried to become establist. and the truth was, it didn't work. nobody believed it on either and ithim look kind of foolish. he's not an insider. u >> are you fir ready to go?up fire we can finally bring the change we need to washington. >> narrator: making things worse for mccain, he faced a formidable opponent in the general election. t american people are oboking for change in america. >> narrator: baraca was surging in the polls.
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>> mccaiis looking at his campaign, and he sees that the energy is on the other side, that the momentum is on the other side, that the freshne is on the other side. >> and because somebody stood upa few more stood up, and then a few thousand stood up, and then a few million... >> it was really hard for john mccain, especially having worked so hard to prove himself a real conservative, to run against the first african-american candidate, this exciting, young, charismatic figure who represented change just by getting up in the morning. >> we will win this eltion, we will change the course of history, and the world... >> narrator: mccain was inou e, and he knew it. he needed a dramatic gesture. >> by the summer, when mccain got ready to maka vice presidential selection, we were behind. and we would have expected to go into the fall behind. so john wanted to do something a little dferent.
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>> this is where john mccain will appear with his running. ma >> narrator: the announcement of his vice presidential running mate was a closely guarded secret. >> it was amazing, it was so amazing. all the secry about it, the secret cars and secret names and the false airports. it was the most wanted story by any political reporter in thistr coun everybody wanted to find out who this was. (cheering) >> thank you, thank you. thank you, thank you. >> he needed to find someone. an african-american running, you got to find a woman. but you have to find a woman who meets some of the litmuss te your own party. >> i am very privileged to introduce to you the next vice president of the united states, governor sarah palin of the great state of alaska. ci narrator: at the time, few realized that thsion was a turning point for the republican party and the history of american politics. i
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>>was probably the rashest decision that john mccain and the people around him ever madeh truth is, they didn't know enough about her other than the fact that she excited the base. >> mccain's advisers thoug dfere turned out to be. they didn't realize that she would be this populist csader anturn into a sort of right-wing grassroots populist. >> ladies and gentlemen, the govern of alaska and the next vice president... >> narrator: as e arrived at mccain's republican convention... >> sarah palin! >> narrator: palin stole the show... >> well, i'm not a member of the permanent political establishment. (cheering) >> palin's arrival on the scene is the opening chapter, in a way, of the transformation of the republican party into the tea party movement. the idea that what we are going to reward are people who want tw p the system, who are bomb throwers, who are firebrands, who appeal to anger, who appeal to grievance.
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>> i'm not going to washington to seek their good opinion. i'm going washington to serve the people of this great leuntry. >> narrator: she erified the crowds with her own brand of "prairie populism"-- attacks on the washington establishment and those she labeled "the elites." >>e leard quickly these last few days that if you're noi a membergood standing of the washington elite, en some in the media consider a candidateth unqualified fo reason alone, but... (audience booing) but... she didn't talk like politicians. she wasn't careful with her words. she didn't make a lot se sometimes. >> i love those hockey moms. you know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? lipstick.te (lau cheering)
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>> sarah palin was whatever she needed to be to get attentio and applause and money. she was an entertainer. and she was antithetical to everything john mccain believed about politics. >> thank you and god bless america. >> john mccain ushered an insurgent, somebody coming in from the outside, literally from alaska, and then also in every other way in terms of her background and her regard for elite institutions. >> but this governor, from alaska, she's something else. >> sarah palin has completely transformed republican party and the next presidency. >> boy, were you right about this o. did you know how great she is? she's unbelievable. n arrator: mccain stood by as palin connected to the party's base in a way he never could. >> iidded john about it constantly. one day a week, they campaigned together. and he would always double his crowds when she was there. she had tremendous appeal amonga the consve grassroots.
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>> narrator: and among the campaign's supporters, the anger was boiling over. oh>> i remember going to jn mccain rallies in 2008 and for the first time having meers of the crowd start to throw things at reporters, you know? that was new. there was so much anger that members in the mccain audience wanted to throw it somewhere. >> narrator: much of the anger was directed at mccain's o opponent, bama. >> one thing that was observable and yet ignored was the degree to which there w real hostility toward barack obama on the right. >> obama's a terrorist, don't you know that? >> obama's a muslim. he's a terrorist himself. >> narrator: he saw thers hostility fithand. >> i can't trust obama. i have read about him, and he's not... he's not... he's a... he is an arab, he is not a... >> no, ma'am, no, ma'am.
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no, ma'am, no, ma'am. he's a... he's a decent family man, citizen, that i just happen to have disagreements with. >> narrator: mccain wouldn't alke advantage of ra prejudice. >> they had a rule in the mccain campaign that if you... if there was any hint that... that the mccain campaign wasin to use racial animus against barack obama, you would have been fired and banned from republican politics. it was a red line that was never crossein 2008. >> my wife and i are expecting our first child, april 2, next year-- thank you- and, frankly, we're scared. we're scared of an obama presidency. >> narrator: mccain tried to reassure his supporters... e i have to tell you, i h tell you, he is a decent person, and a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the united states. (crowd boos) now, i jus.. i just...
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now, look... (booing) if i didn't think... >> he doesn't want to play into that, and yet he has picked somebo as a vice president who encourages that kind of politics. so he has both tapped into this force that she is, at that point, and is wary of what h has got himself into. >> barack obama is projected to be the next president... >> senator barack obama of illinois... >> narrator: when john mccain's quest for the presidency ended, on the conservative airwaves, they blamed him. >> this campaign never had a prayer and everybody knew it from the get-go. john mccain is a disaster. a complete, unmitigated disaster. >> the mccain campaign was one b of tgest, ridiculous disasters in the history of campaigns. >> a little while agad the honor of calling senator barack obama to congratulate him... (crowd booing) please. to congratulate him on being elecd the next president of the country that we both love.
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(crowd booing) >>earrator: john mccain's t as leader of the republican party was ending. >> i am also, of course, verykf th to governor sarah palin, one of the best campaigners i've ever seen (cheers and applause) >> narrator: but mccain's decision to choose palin wou go on to shape the future of the republican party. >> thank you and god bless you... lad at least he didn't blame palin. >> the flash of brilliance was choosing sarah palin.e >> i know ople around him regret it, that he had not only given a platform to someone who was very corrosive to the political process and to the party, but had very nearly put her, you know, within a few feet of the presidenc and i would be very surprised if that didn't haunt him from then after. >> president obama lying to the people, deceiving... >> a giant step backwards in race relations. >> narrator: in the mohs that followed... >> rammed it down america's throats, government run amok. >> narrator: ...the populist anger sarah palin had tapped
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into explod into the tea party movement. >> nancy pelosi deceiving... >> you wanna kill my grandparents, you comero h me first! >> the things that obama's doing are the exact things that hitler did. >> narrator: the politics ofan grievance d resentment that mccain had resisted were on the isse. >> radical, commun and socialist. >> this is a party that john cain and most republican don't recognize anymore. and they didn't even have the vocabulary to talk to theme ers of their party. >> there is an ugliness with these fringe people who are comparing the president to >> fthat point on, he's a misfit in the party, and clear e toryone watching and involved that he no longer speaks for sort of the ascendant republican base. >> 2016, the road to the white house begins in iowa... >> narrator: mccain could only watch as the changes in the republican party culminated in a crucial moment in 2016...n >> to wa, everybody wants to do it... >> narrator: the woman mccain had anointed... >> governor sarah palin--sp ial, special person, thank
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you. >> narrator: endorsed a new maverick. >> thankou so much, it's so great to be in iowa, lending our support for the next president of our great united states of america, donald j. trump. >> john mccain ss donald trump and, in effect, what he's seeing is the manifestation of what he brought to the table in 2008 by picking sarah palin. >> heads are spinnin', mediahe s are spinnin'. this is going to be so much fun. >> sarah palin was something republican voters loved in 2008. and you saw donald trump completely take advantage of it and take all of these sort of palin voters and add to them. >> and breaking news from the campaign trail, trump is picking up the endorsement from. >> ...struggle within the republican party... >> narrator: as the republican nominee, trump exploited the t fohat mccain would not. >> we are led by very stupid people. we're going to drain the swamp of washington. 're gonna drive the cars over the illegals! build the wall! build the wall!
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>> almost evything stylistically, and many things about trump substantively, weren anathema to ccain. there's almost nothing about trump that is in the se space as john mccain. >> stunning upset, donald trump is on his way... >> narrator: and on election w day, trump dt mccain could not-- win the presidency. >> well, donald trump pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in american history. >> one of the most shocking elections in our political history.. >> world order, at least a new washington order... >> ...after watching president trump's inauguration. >> narrator: as donald trump took office, john mccain began his third decade in the senate. >> it's an uncomfortable washington for john mccain, iar mean, inbecause there's a president with whom he is at ane is a senate and house that are doing things that are probably more conservative thant he thoas wise. >> narrator: congress was nowve different from the one that mccain had witnessed all those years ago.
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>> it was a different sort of period of time when we both first entered the congress. there were certain issues that were very divisive, but most of the issues, there was a way forward on common ground. and that common ground was shrinking dramatically. and i think his reaction was, that's... you know, it's not good for us. it's not good for the country. >> there's gridlock in.. washingt >> narrator: gridlock... >> the paralysis of the... >> narrato confrontation... >> the deep dysfunction... >> narrator: and ideological purity hadeplaced collaboration. for mccain, washington was an increasingly difficult place. >> mccain is one of the last of the giants in the senate who has independent identity that is separate from his party and it's hard to imagine whether there can be another one these days. the system doesn't encourage independent thinkers and mavericks. people will get punished for g at. >> sad and shockws about senator and former presidential candidate john mccain... >> doctors found the tumor... >> narrator: last summer, even
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as he was diagnosed with brain cancer, mccain was again the center of attention. >> that much anticipated vote oh health car is still too close to call... >> narrator: as he voted against the president's attempt toma repeal ore... >> no. (gasping, light applause) >> narrator: ...and stood up to delir a message to his colleagues. >> our deliberations today are more ptisan, more tribal, more of the time than at any time that i remember. and right now they aren't producing much for the american >> it ike it really was symbolic of who he has wanted to be. this is who john mccinks he is in his heart. >> john mccain critical of the president... >> narrator: john mccain was again fighting back... >> after a scathing statementen fromor john mccain... >> narrator: earning him the ire of a president... >> taking other swipe at president trump... >> narrator: putting him again in conflict with his own party... >> some pretty sharp words about his own party... >> narrator: ...and at the center of battles that continue. >> john cain says the only person smiling today is vladimir putin.
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>> he's saying that those public statements emboldenan syresident, bashar al assad... >> john mccain said that present trump is sending a dangerous message to the world... >> got to to explore extended interviews with lindsey graham... ig>> it's a real smear cam but it hurt. >> orson swindle... >> and if we couldn't ta pain we were scared to death we would do something to hurt our country. >> and others... >> a very impressive catelogue of demerits. >> visit our films page where you can watch more than 200 frontline domentaries. connect to the frontline community on facebook and twitter. then sign up for o newsletter at >> this is a crime that hides in plain sight. >> in our own country we have, a lot of victims of human trafficking. some of them are kids. >> it's probably one of these thangs that you just don't w to know. do you suspect that this is ing on?
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probably. but do you really wanna try digging into it? >> we've got the kids. they're living on our soil. i don't care what you think about immigration policy. it's wrong. >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like u. thank you. and by the corporation for publicroadcasting. major support is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committedo to building just, verdant and peaceful world. more information iavailable at tiditional support is provided by the abrams foun: committed to excellence in durnalism. the park foundatioicated to heightening public awareness of critical ises. the john and helen glessner family trust. supporting trustworthy journalismhat informs and inspires. and by the frontline journalism fund, with major supportrom
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jon and jo ann hagler. captioned by media access group at wgbh >> for more on this and other programs, visit our website at ♪ "frontline's" "mccain"is vailable on dvd. to order, visit or call 1-800-play-pbs. "frontline" is also available for download on itunes. ♪ ♪
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you're watching pbs george lopez: 'charlotte's web' leslie stahl: 'war and peace' john reen: 'the catcher ' vo: but what is america's leslie favorite book?d peace' gabrielle union: 'the color rple' allison williams: 'frankenstein' 'l wheaton: 'ready player vo: we've got a list of america's one hundred st-loved novels, and we need you to help us pick numberne. ming-na wen: 'the joy luck club' devon kennard: 'to kill a mockingbird' jenna bush: 'the book thief' leland melvin: 'the martian'ou vo: isfavorite on the list? join host meredith viera, r and cast youvote in the great american read. it all begins tuesday, may 22nd at 8/7c. only on pbs.
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w.s. merwin, voice-over: poetry begins with hearing. it begins with hearing the sounds of passion. man: he was a minstrel, a troubadour, a jongleur, a throwback. different man: he has evolved as a poet in remarkable ways that i can't think there's a parallel in contemporary american poetry. different man: he's different from most people. w ld do whatever he needed to do-- cut his own hair, wear the same clothes, t whatevers just in order to maintain his independence. some people have taken it as arrogance, but the truth is people and his authenticity.h announcer: "w.s. merwin: to plant a tree" was made possible in part by... the hotels and resorts of halekulani is proud to support this documentary celebrating w.s. merwin