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John McCain, senator and former presidential candidate, dies at 81
Whenever America was in a fight during his long lifetime, John McCain was in the thick of it.
McCain, who has died at the age of 81, was a naval bomber pilot, prisoner of war, conservative maverick, giant of the Senate, twice-beaten presidential candidate and an abrasive American hero with a twinkle in his eye.
The Arizonan warrior politician, who survived plane crashes, several bouts of skin cancer and brushes with political oblivion, often seemed to be perpetually waging a race against time and his own mortality while striving to ensure that his five-and-a-half years as a Vietnam prisoner of war did not stand as the defining experience of his life.
He spent his last few months out of the public eye in his adopted home state of Arizona, reflecting on the meaning of his life and accepting visits from a stream of friends and old political combatants.
In a memoir published in May, McCain wrote that he hated to leave the world, but had no complaints.
"It's been quite a ride. I've known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war, and helped make peace," McCain wrote. "I've lived very well and I've been deprived of all comforts. I've been as lonely as a person can be and I've enjoyed the company of heroes. I've suffered the deepest despair and experienced the highest exultation.
"I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times."
McCain had not been in Washington since December, leaving a vacuum in the corridors of the Senate and the television news studios he roamed for decades.
In recent months, he was not completely quiet, however, blasting President Donald Trump in a series of tweets and statements that showed that while he was ailing he had lost none of his appetite for the political fight.
The Arizona Senator repeatedly made clear that he saw Trump and his America First ideology as a departure from the values and traditions of global leadership that he saw epitomized in the United States.
CNN reported in May, that the McCains did not want Trump at his funeral. Former rivals and Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush had been asked to give eulogies, people close to both former presidents and a source close to the senator confirmed to CNN.
McCain's two losing presidential campaigns meant he fell short of the ultimate political prize, one his story once seemed to promise after he came home from Vietnam and caught the political bug. In the end, he became a scourge of presidents rather than President himself.
At the time of his death, he was largely an anomaly in his own party -- as one of the few Republicans willing to criticize Trump and a believer in the idealized "shining city on a hill" brand of conservatism exemplified by his hero Ronald Reagan that has been dislodged by the nativist and polarizing instincts of the current President. He was also a throwback to an earlier era when political leaders, without betraying their own ideology, were willing on occasion to cross partisan lines.
In a Washington career that spanned 40 years, first as a Navy Senate liaison, then as a member of the House and finally as the occupant of the Senate seat he took over from Barry Goldwater, McCain was a conservative and a foreign policy hawk. But he was not always a reliable Republican vote, and sometimes in a career that stretched into a sixth Senate term, he confounded party leaders with his maverick stands. He defied party orthodoxy to embrace campaign finance reform, and excoriated President George W. Bush's defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, for not taking enough troops to Iraq.
After Obama ended McCain's second White House race in 2008, the senator blasted the new President's troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, causing critics to carp that he had not yet reconciled the bitterness he felt in defeat. McCain had supported the invasion of Iraq carried out by the Bush administration in 2003, but admitted in his memoir "The Restless Wave" that the rationale, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was wrong.
"The war, with its cost in lives and treasure and security, can't be judged as anything other than a mistake, a very serious one, and I have to accept my share of the blame for it," he wrote.
More recently, as death approached, he became a strident critic of Trump, who had once said he didn't consider the Arizona senator a war hero because he had been captured.
McCain questioned why Trump was solicitous of Vladimir Putin, whom he regarded as an unreformed KGB apparatchik.
In one of his final public acts, he blasted Trump's cozy summit with the Russian President in July, blasting it as "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."
"The damage inflicted by President Trump's naivet'e, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake," he said in a statement