Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act received a sizable blow this past Tuesday as the Graham-Cassady bill was pronounced dead in the Senate. Led first by John McCain (R-AZ), a group of Republicans promised to defect should the bill arrive at the floor. Reading the writing on the walls, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) decided not to bring the issue to a vote.
But the issue did not die without a fight–especially in response to Senator McCain’s defection. The President insinuated that the defectors were not true Republicans while many in the press, punditry, and public have accused McCain of being a traitor to the party or a RINO (Republican in Name Only).
There’s just one problem with these indictments: They’re demonstrably false.
Using DW-NOMINATE scores, a common measure of political ideology, from the 113th Congress we see that McCain is far from the most liberal member of the GOP. In fact, he’s just about dead center.
He has also, in general, been incredibly loyal to the party when it comes time to vote. Since McCain’s arrival in the 80th Congress, he has aligned with the party on important votes 86% of the time. Indeed, McCain has been often been more loyal to the GOP compared to the average Senate Republican during and when he’s not he’s rarely too far off.
Additionally, FiveThirtyEight shows that McCain has voted with President Trump on 83% of the issues so far. If he’s exacting vengeance due to past insults, he’s not doing a good job.
The charges against him simply do not make any empirical sense. Looking at the actual data, McCain falls basically dead-center of the GOP in ideology and is one of its most consistent supporters on the floor.
With these data in mind, the accusations take on a chillingly Orwellian tone. Their logic holds that party-membership requires perfect ideological conformity on all issues at all times. Not only is that anathema to American democracy, but with a President unpopular among Independents and 2018 around the corner it is simply not an argument the GOP can afford to make.