It’s only been a few days since Sen. John McCain’s funeral, but as is often the case in politics these days, the intervening period’s bevy of scandals and outrages has left many of us feeling like it’s already been months since he passed and was buried at Annapolis.
Nonetheless, one moment from last weekend’s mourning lingers as if still fresh: the passionate oration of his daughter, Meghan. She now has a better foothold for assuming her father’s mantle in American politics, should she want to. She might even prove to be a more effective counterbalance to Trump than her father was, long term—if she so decides.
Set aside all the positive coverage and sympathy that Meghan has generated in recent weeks and months. The fact is, she was already a 21st century pop culture figure with her own non-political following. She is into her second season co-hosting The View. The show boasts roughly 3 million viewers. Meghan’s high-profile job outside the political space actually gives her visibility and a profile that is well-suited to the future, whereas Donald Trump symbolizes the present, and arguably even more, the past.
But here’s the real reason Meghan could be a tougher foe for the president than her father was: She’s a woman. And Trump, despite his sexist comments and predatory behavior toward women, actually has a demonstrated record as a man who can be brought to heel, battled, or forced to change his behavior only by women, and whose most effective critics and foes have always been women. Women, coincidentally, are also the voters he is most at risk of losing, and someone like Meghan McCain is not without influence among us girls.
Trump was heavily influenced by his mother. While he bears his father’s name and followed in his career footsteps, Trump has said his mother was the “greatest person ever”—i.e., greater than his dad.
Manifestly, he favors his daughter Ivanka over her brothers, including the son who bears his name. The person who most frequently and prominently gets away with breaking from him as he occupies the White House is his wife, Melania (though Ivanka does, too).
His most effective—if ultimately unsuccessful— critics in the 2016 GOP primary were a host of right-of-center women. Megyn Kelly, who briefly stalled his rise in the wake of his attacks on her following the first Republican debate. Carly Fiorina—maybe the only Republican contender who truly ever got the better of him. A trio of anti-Trump Republican women consultants: Kellyanne Conway (who ultimately caved and went to work for him), Katie Packer Beeson, and yours truly.
He never quite figured out how to handle any of us, though he did himself a favor by bringing Kellyanne into the tent. There, she has outlasted a number of earlier, male Trump advisers and allies—Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn and more—all while breaking with the president on matters like family separation and apparently facing zero punishment for it.
She, Ivanka and Sarah Huckabee Sanders often appear more influential with Trump than White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (as did Hope Hicks during her White House tenure), while the one Cabinet member who sometimes outshines him is UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley.
And it increasingly appears that if Trump is to have a downfall, it will come courtesy of Stormy Daniels—though Omarosa, another woman, has also caused him massive problems, as has ex-wife, Marla Maples, who is rumored to have been the source for a leak of Trump tax returns in 2016, and who succeeded in nabbing daughter Tiffany to raise well away from The Donald.
The fact is that Trump simply doesn’t know how to handle women whom he can’t just screw and discard and almost exhibits a fear of us (sometimes it’s justified). He and his followers certainly did not seem to know how to handle Meghan in the context of her funeral remarks. There was a lot of petty sniping on social media that did not succeed in detracting from her eloquence, public profile, and yes, her sympathetic position.
Meghan is a conundrum for Trump—and potentially a huge threat to him. Trump dodged a bullet when Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointed former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl to replace her father, short term. Now, he doesn’t have to deal with someone who has star power and a fan base outside the realms of political news segments—something Trump and John McCain were both smart to cultivate before running for public office.
He doesn’t have to deal with someone who is the closest possible approximation to what Arizonans voted for in 2016 (Meghan’s attitude, disposition and core values are barely distinguishable from her father’s). He doesn’t have to deal with another woman who is less interested in following his lead than charting her own path, and potentially accruing her own followers. He doesn’t have to deal with someone who is just as inclined to double down instead of backing away as he himself is.
For now, anyway. Kyl won’t stay in the Senate forever. He already chose to retire once. And Meghan is only in her thirties. She could easily run for political office in future, and while she doesn’t look like a “standard” Republican who has “standard” Republican appeal, neither did her Dad in 2000, when he put George W. Bush under serious pressure, or in 2008, when he outmaneuvered Mitt Romney despite his campaign having previously cratered.
A big question that faces the GOP in the aftermath of John McCain’s passing is, who will carry his legacy forward? Right now, it’s tough to identify a single obvious contender, and even in the Republican Party of Donald Trump, it’s clear that there is a vacuum.
Meghan McCain may just be the right, and only, candidate to fill it. Unless someone steps up soon, if she wants the kind of influence her father exerted in politics to continue to be felt, she will probably have to pick up his torch at some point in the not-too-distant future. As the old saying goes, if you want something done right, do it yourself.