Voters moved – but not moved to shift votes – by McCain’s Trump rebuke

Arizona Sen. John McCain at a December campaign rally in Mesa in December 2015. His decision this month to withdraw his support for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump made headlines, but appeared to have little effect on campaign. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Was Sen. John McCain’s decision to withdraw his endorsement of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump a principled stand by a political maverick or the calculated move of a career politician?

All of the above and more, said voters who responded to a Public Insight Network query on politicians’ endorsements.

The differing opinions are not surprising for a public figure like McCain, a five-term Republican who has “been in the public eye for so long that people have their mind made up,” said Catherine Alonzo, a political consultant with Javelina. “So people will understand his actions through the lens they already have.”

McCain had said throughout the campaign that he would support the party’s nominee for president, even after Trump insulted McCain over his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He stuck to that position as Trump’s inflammatory campaign rhetoric brought calls for condemnation from both sides of the aisle.

That changed with the release earlier this month of a 2005 audiotape in which Trump can be heard making offensive and lewd comments about women. Trump quickly apologized for what he called “locker room banter.” But McCain announced that he could not vote for Trump because of the “offensive and demeaning” remarks, and would instead write in the name of “some good conservative Republican.”

Despite a flurry of passionate Facebook comments and dramatic headlines in the wake of the move, most of the voters who responded to the PIN query said it did not change the way they plan to cast their ballot this fall.

Kevin Anderson, an independent from Tempe, has voted for McCain in past elections and will support him in November as well.

“I think Sen. McCain did the right thing and I respect him for repudiating Trump,” Anderson said. “And I guess it does play into his reputation of a maverick because Trump’s actions finally got to the tipping point where he could no longer hold the party line.”

Political consultant Jason Rose agrees that while the move may have been unpopular with conservative Republicans, it cements McCain’s legacy as a maverick.

“When you look at him throughout his entire career, he has spoken out at some politically inconvenient times,” Rose said. “And does anyone truly believe that McCain was ever enthusiastic about supporting Trump?

“The Trump endorsement got him through a tough primary, but McCain was just gritting his teeth,” Rose said.

Republican voter Louis Cespedes said that had he known during the primary election that McCain “was going to do this … I definitely would have considered supporting his competitor.”

John McCain favorability ratingsAnn Kirkpatrick favorability ratings

Cespedes, a Tucson IT consultant, saw McCain’s rebuke of Trump as a purely calculated move. But he said he cast an early ballot for McCain because “even though Trump was not my first choice, I still support the party platform. Same for McCain.”

Independent voter Pat Baker from Phoenix echoed Cespedes.

“It was a very cowardly move to turn away from your own party’s nominee,” said Baker, who also cast an early ballot for both McCain and Trump. “There simply isn’t an alternative … this is a binary election.”

Which confirms Rose’s theory that the Arizona Senate race was decided months ago.

“Because what, a hardcore Trump supporter is going to vote for (Democratic challenger Ann) Kirkpatrick?” asked Rose. “No way.”

On the other side of the aisle, Democrat Suzanne Hesh from Tucson said McCain’s announcement did not improve her opinion of the senator.

“Because he never should have supported Trump in the first place,” she said.

Independent voter David Plummer said he hasn’t respected McCain, “since about 2006 or 2007 when he was gearing up to run for president … so I saw the un-endorsement as just selling out to appease a party boss.”

Alonzo said voters who dislike Trump won’t be quick to forgive McCain for supporting him in the first place, no matter what the senator does to distance himself from the presidential nominee.

“And it’s not like McCain was being a maverick with this … it was during a big wave of un-endorsements,” she said. “So people are going to stick with whatever they felt was true about McCain.”

Through it all, McCain has maintained a double-digit lead over Kirkpatrick, according to an Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News Poll conducted shortly after the announcement.

“This is a crazy election,” Alonzo said. “We won’t really know what to expect until the dust settles on Nov. 8.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sources in the Public Insight Network informed the reporting in this story through a partnership with the Cronkite PIN Bureau. To send us a story idea or more, click here.