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John McCain + Add to myFT John McCain is one of the few who can stand up to Donald Trump Senator's cancer diagnosis could rob Congress of a catalyst for es president's impeachment 66 Global Insight John McCain, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer, is described by his mother as ‘stubborn as hell’ © Reurers y f in & Fass mh | save JULY 21, 2017 by: Edward Luce Just after Donald Trump announced this week that he was pulling the plug on US- trained Syrian moderates, America’s best-known hawk accused him of “playing right into the hands of Russia”. That was John McCain, former presidential nominee, and Republican senator for Arizona. The fact that Mr McCain, 80, was in hospital having just been diagnosed with brain cancer was neither here nor there. His condemnation arrived bang on schedule. Mr Trump's “get well” tweet, and follow-up phone call, had a ws Whether, and how soon, Mr McCain makes it back to Washington is the crucial question. The former Navy pilot, and seven-term senator, is one of the few Republicans who could stand up to Mr Trump. He has a record to prove it. For most of George W Bush’s first term, Mr McCain was a lonely thorn in his side. He berated Mr Bush for allowing waterboarding and other forms of torture in the “war on terror”. He allied with Democrats to pass a law restricting money’s influence in politics. And he insisted on the fact of man-made global warming. None of that endeared him to the party’s base. Yet he still went on to win its nomination for the 2008 election. Mr McCain’s tenacity, and the fact that aspiring firebrands, such as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, demolished each other during the primaries, left him as the last man standing, “He's tougher than a $2 steak,” tweeted John Dingell, 91, a former Democratic congressman from Michigan and the longest serving representative in US history. “He'll be back.” Ahidden part of Mr Trump must be hoping otherwise. Mr McCain stands out for having stuck to his hawkish stance on Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The only realistic way Mr Trump could be removed from office is if his party turns against him. Were that to happen, Mr McCain would be the likeliest catalyst. In the early stages of the 2016 primaries, Mr Trump shocked the US — and triggered wildly premature predictions of his political downfall — by attacking Mr McCain’s war record. In 1968, Mr McCain’s plane was shot down over Vietnam. He spent the next five years in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” prison. He suffered frequent torture, ms of Mr Bush an ordeal that drove later cri As the son of an eponymous serving US admiral, Mr McCain was dangled the chance of early release. He refused, believing it would shame his father and upset his fellow prisoners. Almost half a century later, Mr Trump depicted Mr McCain’s capture as a flaw. “He is not a war hero,” Mr Trump said in 2015. “I like people who weren't captured.” To many people’s surprise, Mr McCain declined to hit back. He endorsed Mr Trump's candidacy in 2016. RECOMMENDED Watch: Trump healthcare efforts collapse Comment: Putting aside protocol spells danger for Trump Many of Mr McCain’s most loyal fans were secretly relieved he lost the 2008 election to Barack Obama. “The fundamentals of the economy are strong,” Mr McCain said to near- universal derision shortly after the largest stock market fall in decades. He also lost credibility for picking Sarah Palin, Alaska’s, red-meat governor, as his running mate, a decision many believe unleashed the blue-collar id that culminated in Mr Trump. ‘There were also concerns about his temperament. Yet he never shed his dignity. At one rally, a voter said she thought Mr Obama was an “Arab”. Mr MeCain cut her off: “Ihave to tell you Senator Obama is a decent person and a person you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States.” Although loyal to his party, Mr McCain instinctively puts his country first. He also relishes adversity. Sceptics should ask his mother, Roberta McCain, who turned 105 this month. “John’s a good boy,” Mrs McCain told me during the 2008 campaign. “But he’s stubborn as hell.” edward luce@ft.com