Cindy McCain looks at the future of the Republican Party

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

▶ Watch Video: Cindy McCain looks at the future of the Republican Party

Former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial may be over, but there’s the fight over the future of the Republican Party continues. “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Lee Cowan sat down with Cindy McCain — wife of the late Republican Senator John McCain — to talk about what lies ahead.

“I still suffer from a little bit of you know, feeling not adequate sometimes. You know, like, “Oh, who would listen to me, kinda thing,” McCain revealed to Cowan, adding she knew people did listen to her, and she was “grateful” for it.

McCain is no stranger to the sway her last name brings in politics, having appeared by her husband’s side at public engagements to enthusiastic applause.

For more than nearly 40 years during the late Arizona senator’s life of public service, she was right by his side — including his two runs for the White House.

She lost her husband in 2018 to brain cancer. The man who was never president was mourned by several.

“I never thought I would say this, I miss the chaos in the house,” Cindy McCain said.

It was the “chaos” when her husband “would walk in the door” that McCain said she missed most since his passing.

“There was always action happening. It was always something,” she said. “So I miss that. I miss the commotion and … I miss his partnership. And his friendship. And his love. And it’s — you know, you just — it’s day by day.”

With her loss, it was said the Senate lost its conscience too. But McCain is confident it will find its moral center again.

“Our side, it’s swung way to the right. It’ll come back. It’ll come back,” she said.

To see how far that political pendulum has swung, McCain said, look no further than the former president’s second impeachment trial.

His acquittal on the charge he incited the insurrection at the Capitol was proof, she says, that the GOP is in danger of becoming a party defined by the personality of one man.

“We have got to overcome this. We have to. Not just as a party. But as a country. We cannot allow this,” McCain said.

Asked if she thought there would be a split within the party, McCain answered “probably.”

“I know something’s going to happen. I know that much,” she said. “Or our party’s dead if we don’t.”

And if her late husband was still alive for the insurrection, McCain said he would have “gone in the hall and started fighting.”

“I mean, he absolutely — he wouldn’t have hidden,” she laughed. “I guarantee he wouldn’t have gone to the safe room. I’m not suggesting there is anything inappropriate about going to the safe room. But — just, he was a fighter. He would never have stood by and let that happen. He just wouldn’t have done it.”

Months before the attack, Cindy McCain publicly urged her fellow Republicans to turn their backs on the Trump wing of the party — and vote for Joe Biden for president instead.

Looking back on it, McCain said it was not a decision she made lightly.

“I thought about it a great deal, and prayed about it,” she said. “I could no longer sit back and yell at the television set like everybody else, as to what was going on, and just complain without doing something.  And so I did the only thing that I knew, and that was support him.”

McCain also addressed rumors about a possible role in the Biden administration — promising to “do whatever the president wants me to do.”

“If he comes back and suggests, ‘Look, we need you here, I want you to do something.’ Of course I would. You can’t turn down, you know, when a president makes — you know, says to you, ‘We need you,'” she said.

The McCain and Biden families have been friends for a long time. In 1979, now-first lady Jill Biden introduced John McCain to then-Cindy Lou Hensley.

“It was at a cocktail party in Hawaii, and I was with my parents. Jill’s the one — ‘Why don’t you go over and talk to him?’ I guess he was looking my way. I wasn’t paying any attention anyway,” she said.

John McCain would later join Mr. Biden in the Senate. Although their view across the aisle was different on many issues, their friendship never wavered. 

“I watched my husband argue and fight with Joe Biden, with Ted Kennedy and others. But he did it for the good of the country. And that’s what we have to do now. We have to do it for the good of the country,” McCain said.

However, she said, “it was never personal.”

“They were best of friends,” McCain said.

But her endorsement of the now-president was personal for the Arizona GOP, which voted to censure McCain for her apparent defection in supporting a Democrat.

“God, it’s laughable, I’m sorry,” McCain said of the move. “There’re a lot of names in the Arizona Republican party that have been censored … I’m going to have T-shirts made with all the names on it.”

But she wasn’t just the maverick’s wife, however – Cindy McCain had a political life of her own. She has a long history of traveling the world to promote human rights issues and at home, has been a strong advocate for veterans and their families. In 2019, McCain was an observer of the elections in Ukraine. 

She is currently chair the board of trustees at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, where she’s focused much of her attention to initiatives combatting human trafficking.

However, McCain has never had any desire to run for elected office herself, and says she still doesn’t.

The widow has found her rhythm of life without a spouse, taking joy in her grandkids and spending time with family. 

During the pandemic, she and her daughter-in-law have started creating recipes of what she calls “Quarantine Cocktails” — and posted them on Instagram where they became popular.

“It did take off, I did not expect that,” McCain laughed. 

One of the most popular was her blended watermelon margarita:

  • 1 cup Frozen fresh watermelon cubes
  • 8-10oz tequila
  • 4oz triple sec
  • 4-6oz of fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 10oz fresh watermelon juice
  • fresh watermelon triangle (for garnish)

Lee Cowan’s review — “It’s strong, but that is good!”

Cindy McCain has a lot to toast, despite it all — a stroke in 2004 let both her mobility and her spirits in pretty rough shape.

To boost her spirits McCain returned to a love she’s had for a long time — cars, race cars especially — and took lessons on the art of drift racing.

She said returning to her beloved hobby “100%”  contributed to her recovery.

“To celebrate something that I could do, and learn, it just — it meant everything to me,” she said.

McCain confronted her fear of saying in much the same way. She bought a Cessna-182 in there 1980s, and learned to fly it herself.

“It’s ridiculous for me to be scared of flying. So I thought I’ll just do this to increase my confidence.  And at least I’ll know what’s going on. And I wound up loving it,” she said.

Grief, however, has proven a tougher obstacle to climb. She moved out of the Arizona home she and the senator had shared, and bought a house in the Phoenix neighborhood where she grew up.

But Senator John McCain’s presence still looms large — bits of his life are all over Cindy McCain’s new house. By the fire are the shoes he wore during his first campaign for Congress in 1982, which McCain had bronzed.

“The bronzing company wrote me back and said ‘are you sure you want to do these shoes?'” McCain laughed. “‘We usually got these baby shoes!’ And I said, nope, I want em! Look at the holes and everything!”

John McCain was a war hero and a statesman — and for that, history will record his achievements.

But for Cindy McCain, it’s more personal. His politics were rooted in family, she says, which still matters most.

And she is looking to carry on his legacy — something McCain said she needs to do.

“It’s the right thing to do. And maybe for my grandchildren. You know, that’s part of it too,” she said. “I want them to know him. Even though they never did, they never will, I’d like them to know him.”


The McCain Institute’s website has more information on Cindy McCain’s work, including the latest initiative, R.E.A.L Friends Don’t, aimed at increasing “awareness and empower parents, caregivers, and young people ages 8-16 about online safety and the risks young people may confront online.”

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