Did John McCain say Trump was dictator-like?
By Tatiana Prophet
John McCain has been getting a lot of attention lately as a senior voice of sensible opposition within President Trump's own party.
He spoke on Friday at the Munich Security Conference, where he said the founders of the conference "would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarianism.” In an analysis, Aaron Blake of The Washington Post was certain that this and other concerns were all directed at Trump, even though McCain never named him. When I watched it, I concluded he was speaking not only of Trump, but also of Vladimir Putin and his attempt to undermine the hegemony of the west.
On Sunday McCain spoke with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, about the anti-media tweet the President posted on Friday. Todd read him the tweet in full, then asked:
"Do you believe the press is the enemy? Do you believe any group of Americans are the enemy of another group of Americans?"
McCain responded: I was talking [at the conference] about the period as you know of the New World Order. A fundamental part of that new world order is a free press. I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is, we need you. We need a free press. We must have. It’s vital. If you want to preserve, I’m very serious now. If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I’m afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.
Chuck Todd: That’s how dictators get started, with tweets like that?
McCain: With, no. They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, consolidation of power, when you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press, and I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator, I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history."
Many headlines, including in the Washington Post, put the two phrases together so that it looked like McCain was directly calling the president a budding dictator.
‘That’s how dictators get started’: McCain criticizes Trump for calling media ‘the enemy’
See my critique here on whether Trump actually called good reporters the enemy.
And Daniel Politi wrote in Slate magazine that McCain starkly warned "that the commander-in-chief was sounding an awful lot like a burgeoning dictator."
View the exchange here, which includes McCain's concerns but also his assertion that President Trump should have the benefit of the doubt.