Meghan McCain, Faildaughter

Meghan McCain’s new book, Bad Republican, is a testament to how little you have to know about politics to have a career as a pundit if your last name is “McCain.”

Meghan McCain’s new book, Bad Republican, is five and a half hours of nonstop aggrievement. (LBJ Library / Flickr)

Meghan McCain is tough. Very tough. Also, has she mentioned that she has perspective? Lots of perspective. She knows how much privilege she has, and she understands that media is a tough environment, and she gets that lots of people have it worse than her, so no, you don’t need to point any of that out.

It’s just, you see, what you have to understand here is that the particular sleights and indignities she’s suffered at the hands of her father’s political consultants and her cohosts on The View and the students at Reed College who were rude to her during a Q&A on their campus and the Samantha Bee writer who went viral being dismissive to her on Twitter really are just that bad. Do you get it now?

I listened to Meghan McCain’s new book, Bad Republican, on a recent road trip. The last two paragraphs give you a sense of what it was like. It’s five and a half hours of nonstop aggrievement.

“We Live in the Same Building, and I Just Walked Outside”

Bad Republican tells the story of the last few years of Meghan’s life: the death of her father, Senator John McCain; the four years she spent cohosting The View; her relationship with her husband, Ben Domenech, the publisher and cofounder of the Federalist; the birth of their daughter, Liberty; and her reaction to Donald Trump’s presidency.

McCain’s writing style makes the book feel like a series of breezy oversharing blog posts, the kind that were common in 2008 — the year that her father was the Republican nominee for president and twenty-four-year-old Meghan’s contribution to the campaign was a now-defunct website called McCain Blogette.

The best and worst thing about this kind of writing is that she doesn’t hold anything back. This means, for example, that her narration of her father’s ordeal with brain cancer was genuinely moving. I regard John McCain as a war criminal and strongly suspect that the most important difference between a hypothetical McCain administration and what actually happened under Donald Trump is that McCain would have been more likely to invade Iran. Even so, Meghan is raw and vulnerable enough for her love and grief for her father to come through in a way that compelled me.

The problem is that she’s equally raw and vulnerable when she’s telling the central story that frames the book, which goes something like this: As an anti-Trump Republican who’s fine with gay rights and probably holds a few other unorthodox positions, she’s a “bad” Republican — a maverick, like her father. But a bad Republican is still a Republican, and as a Republican, she’s been horribly mistreated by the liberal world of New York media, and she can’t be expected to just sit there and take it, can she?

That’s why she had to leave the city, stop speaking at colleges, and quit The View. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t tough! It means she’s been put through so much abuse that just sticking around so long made her tough.

At one point, she describes her job expressing political opinions on daytime television as “physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.” The last sentence of the book is, “When you’re going through hell, you have to keep going.”

What sort of thing does she describe as going through hell? One of the key incidents takes place during the summer of 2020. She and her husband were riding out the pandemic in Virginia, but she was disturbed by news reports about rioting in New York, and she tweeted about it on June 2:

My neighborhood in Manhattan is eviscerated and looks like a war zone. DeBlasio and Cuomo are an utter disgrace. This is not America. Our leaders have abandoned us and continue to let great American cities burn to the ground and be destroyed. I never could have fathomed this.

Kristen Bartlett, a writer for Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, responded with the typographical equivalent of rolling her eyes: “Meghan, we live in the same building, and I just walked outside. It’s fine.”

And that’s it. I’m not the kind of leftist who denies the existence of something that can be called “cancel culture.” But Bartlett’s response to McCain is not that.

Yet McCain inexplicably describes Bartlett’s tweet as “that woman essentially printing my address online” and “my address essentially being handed to trolls” — even though, once all the information in both tweets was put together, all trolls would know would be that (a) Bartlett and McCain lived in the same building, which was (b) somewhere in New York.

Nevertheless, Meghan takes the opportunity to congratulate herself on her toughness (“I feel bad for people who haven’t done this as long as I have and are undone by cruelty online”) — before telling us that purely on the basis of this incident, she broke her lease and moved out of the city, never to return.

Her capacity to cast herself as the victim of every interaction is genuinely impressive. She spends a long time describing an appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers where Meyers pressed her about her comments about Representative Ilhan Omar. She tells us that the interaction was so bad that she immediately vowed never to go on a late-night show again — so bad, in fact, that her initial impulse was to assume that her miscarriage soon afterward was caused by the stress from the show.

So what actually happened? Meyers is extremely polite to her, the tone of his voice mild. He may have kept the line of questioning going for longer than McCain felt comfortable with, but the worst he says about her is that McCain was “a little unfair” to Omar.

To be clear, the specific thing that was “a little unfair” was McCain repeatedly smearing Omar as an antisemite for Omar’s criticisms of Israel. “Just because I don’t technically have Jewish family that are blood-related to me doesn’t mean I don’t take this as seriously,” McCain said on The View, “and it is very dangerous. . . . What Ilhan Omar is saying is very scary to me.”  McCain even called Omar an antisemite during a discussion about a synagogue shooting — but somehow she manages to make this a story about conservatives like her being the victims of intolerance.

What are the political beliefs she sees herself as being persecuted for holding?

At the beginning of the book, she tells us that even though she’s a maverick-y moderate Republican, she is a Republican, and she rattles off her conservative positions. “I support the military,” she says, “school choice, freedom of speech, responsible fiscal policy, and the Second Amendment.” The next sentence starts with, “I believe taxation is theft.”

If you’re wondering how “taxation is theft” can be squared with support for the best-funded military machine in the history of the world, all I can say is that your guess is as good as mine. But these all sound like conservative-y positions, and she’s rooting for the home team.

Similarly, she tells us numerous times that she’s against Donald Trump, that she voted against him, that she take special pleasure in Trump’s losing her father’s state of Arizona, that she supported the attempt to impeach him over January 6, that years before her father had to convince her to even take a call from President Trump, and so on.

But does she have any policy criticisms of him? If so, they don’t come up in the book. In fact, she praises him for appointing conservatives to the Supreme Court and moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. As far as I can tell, her objections to Trump are that he was crass and crude and polarizing and that he was rude to her dad.

“This Is a Comment, Not a Question”

Just as her time going on late night shows ended when Seth Meyers pressed her too many times on whether she was “a little unfair” to Ilhan Omar, her “run as a college speech-giver came to a screeching halt in October 2012 at Reed College.”

When the event started at Reed, she gave her standard spiel about her career path and “the state of the media and the lack of real discourse among people with different points of view.” As far as I can tell from her description, no one heckled her, and everyone clapped politely when she was done speaking. The Q&A session, though, was a disaster.

In response to a question about taxes, she said she favored “a flat tax and a balanced budget,” which somehow led to an argument about abortion. At the end, a guy asked “a complicated question about taxes” that she does not recount in full for the reader. She said she didn’t understand. Even though that was supposed to be the last question, another student jumped up and “rephrased the question.” “How,” she remembers this last student asking her, “do you reconcile being an influential voice with not necessarily being fully informed or being able to defend the things you talk about?”

Given McCain’s unreliability as a narrator, I can’t help but wonder if that “complicated” question was actually something pretty basic about what would happen to the social safety net, and hence to millions of people’s lives, if that “flat tax and a balanced budget” proposal came to pass.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, though, that it was a genuinely tough question. What’s being described doesn’t come within ten thousand miles of hair-trigger cancel culture. It’s just public debate over issues with a serious effect on ordinary people’s lives being carried out with a bit of an edge — and only a bit of one. It’s amazing how little heat it takes for Meghan McCain to get out of the kitchen.

Early reports indicated that Bad Republican only sold a few hundred copies. McCain’s defense is that the book was published as an Audible exclusive and the paper copy was “soft released” as a “collectible.” There might be some truth to this — the audiobook has over a thousand ratings on Audible.

The question you should ask herself is why anyone listened to this book. Why was she ever on TV? Why do so many people seek out her opinions?

That brings us to another student McCain mentions in her description of that traumatic visit to Reed. I can’t come up with a better summary of McCain’s book, and indeed her career, than to just quote the student who stood up during the Q&A session and said this:

“This is a comment, not a question. You’re only here because of your dad.”

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Ben Burgis is a Jacobin columnist, an adjunct philosophy professor at Morehouse College, and the host of the YouTube show and podcast Give Them An Argument. He’s the author of several books, most recently Christopher Hitchens: What He Got Right, How He Went Wrong, and Why He Still Matters.

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