Trump’s bizarre attack on McCain lowlights raucous speech to evangelical group

President Trump gave a dizzying, rambling speech to an evangelical group on Wednesday, including a very weird aside about the late Sen. John McCain, who he seemed pleased to say has “gone on to greener pastures … or perhaps far less green pastures.”

McCain, who died last August, cast the decisive vote against repeal of the Affordable Care Act in the summer of 2017, which is still a personal sore spot for Trump.

“We needed 60 votes and we had 51 votes, and sometimes, you know, we had a little hard time with a couple of them, right? Fortunately they’re gone now. They’ve gone on to greener pastures,” Trump said, as some groans could be heard emanating from his Faith and Freedom Coalition audience, although with chuckles. “Or perhaps far less green pastures, but they’re gone … very happy they’re gone.”

Trump didn’t name McCain in the “greener pastures” line. Daniel Dale of CNN pointed out that it’s possible Trump was just referring to other somewhat Trump-skeptical Republicans who have recently left the Senate, such as Jeff Flake and Bob Corker. But given Trump’s long history of feuding with McCain, even continuing to criticize him after the senator’s death, and the anger he’s repeatedly expressed in particular with McCain’s ACA vote, it’s hard to imagine he was referring to anyone else.

Watch:

While Trump has long made bizarre appearances, they’ve seemingly become a more regular occurrence in the days since he launched his campaign for reelection with a rally last week in Orlando — a troubling sign of what the next year and a half of campaigning could look like.

His speech before the Faith and Freedom Coalition on Wednesday was no exception:

“They’re going to say, ‘See I told you he wants to be a dictator, I told you that!’” Trump said, pointing at the assembled media as the crowd laughed, alluding to the concerns of some that he’ll try to change laws to make it harder for people to criticize him. “They are unbelievable, what they do. You have to say it with that big smile on your face, and even that doesn’t work.”

Trump even poked some fun at himself. Days after the New York Times published a report detailing how the crucial endorsement Trump received during the 2016 campaign from evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. came after Falwell received help from Michael Cohen to hush up a scandal involving his wife and a pool boy, the president acknowledged his backing came in spite of his limited knowledge of and interest in the Bible.

“Jerry Falwell is a friend of mine and he was with me right from the beginning, and he’s so happy about it,” Trump said. “I could tell you stories … he does say, and so did Pastor Robert Jeffress, a great friend of mine, they say: ‘Our president may not be the best at the Bible, he may not have read it 2,000 times, but he’s the best for us.’”

Very weird days are becoming the norm for Trump

Trump’s speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition came hours after he called in to Fox Business for a rambling phone interview that was especially incoherent. After it ended, he returned to the White House, where he took a few questions from reporters before taking off for the G20 in Japan, where he’s expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Asked by a reporter what he plans to say to Putin, Trump admonished her that “what I say to him is none of your business” — a somewhat odd line given not only the controversy that’s swirled around secretive meetings with Putin he’s had in the past but also because the president is supposedly conducting diplomacy on behalf of the United States.

Trump also offered a glib response to a heartbreaking photo of a Salvadoran father and daughter lying dead on the banks of the Rio Grande river that was published by the Associated Press on Tuesday, saying, “that’s like I’ve been saying — if [Democrats] fixed the laws, you wouldn’t have that.”

It would’ve been an alarmingly abnormal day for any other president. But for Trump, it was another Wednesday.


The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.