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Meghan McCain is leaving ABC's 'The View' as daytime TV's favorite villain

McCain was a lightning rod. But she was also a very necessary part of the formula.
Image: Meghan McCain appears on \"The View.\"
The end of yet another era.Lou Rocco / ABC file

It’s the end of yet another era at “The View” as Meghan McCain announced her imminent departure after a tumultuous four years on the program. (She’ll stay through the end of the season in July.) McCain was a lightning rod, a person people who didn't even watch “The View” loved to hate. But she was also a necessary part of the formula for the long-running series, which has been one of the few female-driven shows to take on politics. And for those already celebrating her expert, brace yourselves: Whoever producers hire to be McCain’s replacement may end up making viewers wish she’d come back.

Whoever producers hire to be McCain’s replacement may end up making viewers wish she’d come back.

Launched nearly a quarter century ago in 1997 by the esteemed journalist Barbara Walters, “The View” was controversial from the start. Walters, along with the original cast of Meredith Vieira, Star Jones, Debbie Matenopoulos, and Joy Behar, were a group of women unafraid to have educated (and sometimes less educated) opinions in public — and argue about them. The freewheeling format was a massive hit, garnering dozens of Emmys, high ratings, and the reputation for being a must watch both inside and outside the Beltway.

Since then, the cast has included a wide variety of alternates, from Lisa Ling to Rosie O’Donnell. But like most mainstream roundtable political shows, both liberal and conservative viewpoints had to be represented. What those viewpoints look and sound like has fluctuated depending on the cast. Behar, for example, brings the traditional “New York liberal” schtick, while former host Elizabeth Hasselbeck spent a decade spouting the “compassionate conservatism” of the Bush era. When there is not an effective conservative to play against its more liberal co-hosts, the show’s popularity, and influence on popular culture, has immediately faded.

Meghan McCain was that effective conservative. Much of what she says has been groan-worthy, if not outright prejudiced. But she has been a consistent gold mine for the show — an effective combination of name recognition and the kinds of pithy, often brash opinions that are perfect for Twitter and Facebook. No conservative since Hasselbeck has been a more reliable headline and traffic generator or brought the show the kind of attention it takes to be heard in this ever-cluttered entertainment space.

McCain's timing aided her ascent. She was brought on to replace the departing Jedediah Bila, best known for co-hosting “Fox & Friends” on weekends. At the time, McCain was also making the Fox News rounds, positioning herself to be the heir to father Sen. John McCain’s “maverick” brand. On TV, her father famously sank Trump’s hopes of repealing the ACA. A few weeks later, Meghan’s official debut felt auspicious.

No conservative since Hasselbeck has been a more reliable headline and traffic generator.

Her father’s shadow continued to follow McCain throughout her tenure. Everything she did was measured against him. If she said anything anti-Trump, she was her father's daughter. When she took the Republican Party line — which she increasingly did as time went on — it was seen as a failure of the brand. She could be maudlin, stubborn and pugnacious. But she was always good TV.

Rumor about trained relationship with co-hosts may have contributed to McCain’s departure. Were the fights for real, or for show? (“I will still be here another month, so if you guys want to fight a little bit more, we have four more weeks,” she said last Thursday.)

Ultimately, though, “The View” needed Meghan McCain. Moreover, it will always need someone like her. The problem is there are fewer and fewer conservative pundits who haven’t transitioned fully to Trumpism. She was far from independent, yet McCain could still surprise us. She may be a dying breed. Once upon a time, Elizabeth Hasselbeck was viewed as “The View’s” worst host; now her comments look quaint. McCain may be leaving, but chances are, whoever follows her into the seat will probably be much, much worse.