The Skinny

The Trump Effect

Sen. McCain is concerned about Trump, but would still support him for president

After Mitt Romney launched a broadside against Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump last week, Arizona Sen. John McCain stepped up to confront The Donald himself.

In a statement on his website, McCain said he was concerned "about Mr. Trump's uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues that have been raised by 65 Republican defense and foreign policy leaders. At a time when our world has never been more complex or more in danger, as we watch the threatening actions of a neo-imperial Russia, an assertive China, an expansionist Iran, an insane North Korean ruler, and terrorist movements that are metastasizing across the Middle East and Africa, I want Republican voters to pay close attention to what our party's most respected and knowledgeable leaders and national security experts are saying about Mr. Trump, and to think long and hard about who they want to be our next Commander-in-Chief and leader of the free world."

McCain is undoubtedly correct that Trump would be a disaster on the world stage, just as he would be a disaster domestically.

But McCain's criticism—which neglected to address the racist, sexist and stupid things that have also tumbled from Trump's mouth—was ultimately undermined by his promise to support the GOP frontrunner should he win the GOP nomination. McCain has vowed to support Trump so often on camera that Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, who is seeking to unseat McCain this year, built her first TV campaign ad around his support of Trump. Released last week, the ad had wracked up more than 76,000 views on YouTube and received national attention as an example of the ads Democrats are likely to use to link their Republican opponents to Trump.

"Today, John McCain says Donald Trump is 'dangerous,'" Kirkpatrick said in a statement to the press. "But yesterday, McCain doubled down on previous statements that he would support Trump if Trump becomes the GOP nominee — and nothing McCain said today changes that position. This isn't John McCain being a 'maverick' or offering 'straight talk.' This is McCain, the self-described 'loyal Republican,' running scared after having a very bad week. Voters should ask McCain why he is still planning to support Trump if he truly believes Trump would be a bad president."

Elsewhere on the McCain campaign trail: A new poll suggests that Arizona's senior senator might be in trouble with Arizona voters as a result of his refusal to consider any nominee that President Barack Obama puts forward for the Supreme Court vacancy caused by the death of Antonin Scalia.

"The president can nominate who he wants to," McCain said last month during an appearance on a Phoenix radio show. "I believe we should wait until after the next election and let the American people pick the next president and we should consider who the next president of the United States nominates."

A Public Policy Polling survey of Arizona voters suggests that McCain's stance will be very unpopular with Democratic and independent voters, even though Republican voters agree with him.

The poll of 533 Arizona voters between March 1-2, with a margin of error is +/- 4.2 percent, shows that 56 percent of Arizona voters want to see the Supreme Court seat filled this year, while 41 percent want to wait until a new president is seated next year.

But there's a dramatic split between Republicans, who generally support McCain's position, and Democrats and independents, who do not. Nearly two out of three Republicans—64 percent—agree with McCain, while just 31 percent disagree. But 83 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents say the seat should be filled this year.

The split between the parties shows that McCain is playing to the base with his opposition to considering a nominee. And the survey also shows that McCain needs to play to the base. Among Republicans, his approval numbers are extraordinarily low: Just 33 percent of Republicans approve of the job he's doing.

McCain is facing former state lawmaker Kelli Ward, Alex Meluskey and Clair Van Steenwyk in the August GOP primary this year. Provided he survives that race, he'll face Kirkpatrick, who is giving up her Congressional District 1 seat, in November.

Whether the Supreme Court controversy will have much impact on the race remains to be seen. Republicans nationwide are gambling that voters will not make their decision based on their refusal to fill the seat, which is a pretty good bet, as elections rarely turn on process issues. But the PPP survey suggests that it may have an impact on the decision-making process: 55 percent of those surveyed said it would make them less likely to support McCain, while 24 percent said it wouldn't make a difference and 21 percent said it would make them more likely to support McCain.

But McCain may have bigger problems than reaction to the court vacancy. His lousy approval numbers stretch across the political spectrum. In addition to his low marks among Republicans, only 17 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of independents approve of McCain's job performance.

Add it all up, and only 26 percent of those surveyed approve of McCain's job performance, while 63 percent disapprove.

In short, McCain is a remarkably unpopular politician, at least if you believe in the Public Policy Polling survey.

Team McCain spokeswoman Lorna Romero dismisses the survey as illegitimate.

"This fake 'poll' from liberal activists is the creation of partisan Democrat hacks who have tried and failed for years to defeat John McCain," Romero said via email. 

Public Policy Polling Executive Director Tom Jensen said his survey was in line with others regarding both support for filling the Supreme Court vacancy and McCain's troubled approval rating.

"Fox News, not exactly a liberal activist group, national polling has found overwhelming support for filling the Supreme Court seat, just as we did at the state level on this Arizona poll," Jensen told The Skinny. "Multiple pollsters have found McCain to be among the least popular Senators in the country and it's not surprising this issue is just exacerbating that."

Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 8 a.m. Sunday on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on Dish, DirecTV and broadcast. You can hear the show on KXCI, 91.3 FM, at 5 p.m. Sundays or watch it online at This week's guests are Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lea Marquez Peterson and Pima County Democratic Chair Jo Holt.

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