John McCain
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

A sad end to a notable life.

John McCain, a Vietnam War hero, two-time Republican presidential contender and towering figure in Congress known for his bipartisan deal-making during six terms as an Arizona senator, has died. He was 81.

McCain’s office confirmed his death at 7:28 p.m. ET Saturday in a statement.

McCain’s life was like something out of a Hollywood movie script — he was a naval officer and a jet pilot, a war hero and politician. Yet he was ultimately denied the brass ring he most clearly wanted: becoming president of the United States.

McCain was the Republican Party’s renowned “maverick” for decades-long battles against his own party. That independence was punctuated by his presidential primary battle against George W. Bush in 2000 — the free-wheeling campaign of “Straight Talk Express” fame — and continued into the Trump administration. In 2008, he clinched the GOP nomination only to lose badly to Democrat Barack Obama. With his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate that year, McCain helped sow the seeds of the mutinous wing of the GOP that ultimately led to Donald Trump’s election.

But it was his trademark rebellious streak and tell-it-like-it-is bluntness that made McCain one of the most popular figures inside Congress and a favorite of reporters, who knew they could always count on him for a good quote or irreverent joke.

Cenk Uygur’s summary of the highs and lows of McCain’s political career is fairly comprehensive; I would only add that McCain does deserve credit for pushing back against his party’s climate-change denialism (he may well be the last Republican presidential candidate to run for office with an actual plan to reduce emissions). While his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 was a sad concession to the forces of right-wing extremism, the note of grace he sounded in his concession speech a decade ago cannot be forgotten.

McCain’s life was, if nothing else, an incredible journey. Tonight, that journey has concluded.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.