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McCain Condemns 'Half-Baked, Spurious Nationalism' in Speech

Sen. John McCain jabbed at isolationist politics, saying that abandoning America's role as an international leader is "unpatriotic."
Image: Senator John McCain
Senator John McCain after being awarded the 2017 Liberty Medal on Monday.Charles Mostoller / Reuters

PHILADELPHIA — Sen. John McCain lashed out at unnamed proponents of isolationist politics, saying that abandoning America's role as an international leader was "unpatriotic."

The six-term Arizona Republican made the remarks at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia where he received the center's Liberty Medal for a lifetime of service and sacrifice to the country.

The former presidential hopeful mentioned his more than two decades of Navy service and his imprisonment in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, and recalled a time when politicians on both sides of the aisle worked together.

McCain, who in July revealed that he's fighting brain cancer, said:

"To abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history."

He did not mention President Donald Trump by name, although the two have clashed in the past.

McCain later tweeted that particular section of his remarks, and provided a link to his full speech.

None of the other speakers, who included former Vice President Joe Biden, mentioned any current or former government officials during their remarks. But many referred to a time when bipartisanship — namely, the friendship between McCain and the Democrat Biden — wasn't out of the ordinary.

"We often argued — sometimes passionately," McCain said of himself and the former vice president. "But we believed in each other's patriotism and the sincerity of each other's convictions. We believed in the institution we were privileged to serve in."

McCain joined the Navy in 1958 and rose to the rank of captain during his 22 years of service. In 1967, his plane was shot down over Hanoi during a bombing mission, and he spent five and a half years as a Vietnamese prisoner of war.

Known as a maverick in the Senate, McCain has gone against the will of the majority of his party in the past. He was one of three senators to vote against the GOP’s attempt at repealing the Affordable Care Act in July, famously signaling his opposition with a thumbs down during the vote.

Image: John McCain
John McCain speaking at the National Constitution Center Liberty Medal ceremony.William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

McCain himself tried several times to rise to the office that Trump now holds. He ran for the Republican nomination in 2000, losing to George W. Bush. Eight years later, he secured his party’s nomination but lost the general election to Barack Obama.

The senator has disagreed with Trump several times since the presidential campaign, when the Republican candidate mocked McCain’s service, saying he was only a hero because he had been captured.

In February, McCain took a veiled swipe at Trump’s attacks on the media, vehemently defending freedom of the press. Several months later, he called Trump's praise of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "very disturbing."

"The statements, and the comments, obviously fly in the face of everything that I’ve stood for and believed in all my life," McCain said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" in May.

More recently, Trump slammed McCain for opposing efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, calling his no vote “terrible” and tweeting that the senator "let Arizona down."