Arizona Republican Senator John McCain is garnering attention as a bulwark against President Trump. But Latinos have a long history with Sen. McCain, in particular, his hot and cold relationship with immigration reform. Latinos would be right to be skeptical, yet now is the time to put pressure on the Arizona legislator to be the Republican that stands up to Trump.
McCain rose through politics and to prominence as the "maverick" of the Senate. An outspoken advocate for truth, even if it meant going against his own party, so the argument goes.
Senator McCain gave a stirring speech last week that was a broadside attack on the Trump administration's homegrown assault on the tenets of western liberalism since the end of World War II; a turn away from "universal values and toward old ties of blood, and race, and sectarianism", he said. McCain used his world platform to warn against the "hardening resentment we see toward immigrants, and refugees, and minority groups, especially Muslims".
Senator McCain then doubled down against Donald Trump by rebuking the President's depiction of the media as the "enemy of the people". This phrase has an unsettling history with dictators in the past who sought to delegitimize the media.
But while Senator McCain has fretted about the growing unwillingness to separate truth from lies, the truth is he has time and again stoked the flames of anti-immigrant fervor that consumes his own state of Arizona.
Latinos know "the pivot" well, a term named after Senator McCain in particular for the political strategy of indulging the anti-immigrant sentiments of his own party for the sake of winning an easy path to victory in the primary elections, only to pivot back to a more moderate approach when he is running in the general election and thereafter.
It was McCain who pushed for immigration reform prior to his presidential bid in 2008, several times, including bills that included a pathway to legalization. But as the hostility of the GOP towards immigrants grew out of the 1990's and solidified after the attack on the towers on 9-11, he resisted taking a stand at all when faced with the ire of his voter base. In particular, he indulged those pushing the racist anti-immigrant bill in Arizona, SB1070, by excusing the frustration of his voters because the "federal government didn't do their job".
McCain supported immigration reform again in 2013, when there was a brief glimpse of a bipartisan solution in the Senate.
But last year, McCain spent his entire campaign for his Senate seat last year failing to condemn Donald Trump every step of the way. This, despite the fact that Donald Trump consistently railed against immigrant "criminals" and "rapists" that Mexico supposedly sent to the U.S.
And despite whatever stand he is taking now with his words, he has voted for virtually all of Donald Trump's cabinet members, almost all of whom have declared their hostility to the very departments they are in charge of, including Jeff Sessions, who could not pass muster for a federal judgeship nearly 20 years ago because his record on race and civil rights.
In fact, according to FiveThirtyEight, McCain has voted to support Donald Trump almost 95 percent of the time so far. It is still early and Donald Trump appears to be weakening among every group but his own party. But if anyone is going to break the fever consuming the GOP today, it requires leadership, not compliance, and compliance is what Senator McCain has done by supporting Pres. Trump.
So the question is if the past has any bearing on the future, Latinos may be questioning if the maverick senator will forge any new paths for democracy.
Yet at his age, and having just won his re-election with another 6 years in the Senate, there is no better time to take an actual stance against the dangers emanating from the White House against the poor, minorities, women, Muslims and immigrants.
As the administration starts outlining immigration enforcement plans — including deportations and the fate of a very expensive border wall — now more than ever McCain needs to speak up.