I’m not proud the words “Meghan McCain getting owned” auto-complete on my YouTube search bar, but I think the first step in remedying a problem is acknowledging you have one. I also know I’m not alone in enjoying watching The View cohost’s public humiliation, demonstrated by the countless — truly, countless — videos that come up as results, each with hundreds of thousands of views. Not since the last time The View had an overprivileged, rich, conservative, cute white lady have I enjoyed this stupid, stupid show so much.
The View’s hosts can claim that the point of their program is to foster a robust, fascinating cultural and political debate between women from diverse perspectives and different backgrounds; it’s been their party line for all the show’s history. But that, my friends, is television nonsense. The View actually excels in showing a bunch of people fighting on air with little to no resolution, which inevitably results in endless scandals and public tiffs. Delightful!
While all of this has been largely satisfying over the course of the show’s 23-year run, there is a kind of sadistic glee in watching McCain in particular get dunked on day after day on The View and then eventually on Twitter. Jezebel does a weekly roundup of McCain’s voice getting more and more strained as she argues with the other women on the show. There are long YouTube video compilations of her meltdowns, sometimes with added filters that make her look deranged and desperate. More often than not, her name trends on Twitter after she appears on television, accompanied by commentary about her latest controversy. (The most recent reason for McCain’s Twitter virality was her Jan. 7 conversation with Elizabeth Warren, characterized largely by the senator refusing to give her the time of day. “Anyone who doesn’t think Senator Elizabeth Warren could handle trump in the primary,” said one tweet, “missed out on her vaporizing Meghan McCain’s rude interruptions by ignoring her.”)
Since McCain’s debut on the show in 2017, there has been a constant flow of reports that her cohosts hate her, or are icing her out, despite everyone insisting they’re one big family. On Jan. 13, CNN reported that the only other conservative cohost at the time, Abby Huntsman — daughter of former US ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. — was leaving thanks to “recent tensions” between her and McCain; in part, Huntsman “was sick of being berated by Meghan for perceived slights.” Even among other conservatives, McCain appears to have no real allies.
It’s worth pointing out that during her time on The View, Huntsman got a similar YouTube compilation treatment, but it’s not nearly to the same degree that McCain receives. Perhaps because if you wanted to design someone who Republicans think is too accommodating, and who Democrats think is too mealymouthed, you couldn’t do better than Meghan McCain herself.
McCain is a rare example of a Republican who seems to desperately want Democrats, in particular, to like her. It’s not enough for her to merely be a conservative whom other conservatives like — which, considering her lukewarm stance on Trump, doesn’t appear to be the case anyway. She wants Democrats, liberals, progressives, and anyone to the left of her to respect her, even if they disagree with her. She appears to yearn for an idealized version of the world that right-of-center politicos like to pretend was once real: Remember when everyone on either side of the aisle could get along despite their disagreements over little things like access to safe abortions and whether we should be in a war?
Look, Ann Coulter or Tomi Lahren or Bill O’Reilly are all utterly craven. Jeanine Pirro is not your friend. I don’t think Donald Trump Jr. particularly cares if you like him (so long as you agree he is very rich and successful and that his head doesn’t look like a turtle who found a set of dentures). Listening to their pablum or their political rhetoric is discomfiting and infuriating — there’s nothing to salvage there, and there’s nothing interesting about their characters or demeanors to examine and pick apart. Coulter is a vehement Islamophobe. Lahren is, at the very least, anti-immigrant and often outright hateful of people of color. O’Reilly settled countless sexual harassment claims and took great efforts to silence any women who attempted to speak out against him, and after all that it was only recently he lost his cushy job within the right-wing mothership at Fox News.
But give them this much credit (loath as I am to do it): None of these conservative figures are dying to get along with anyone who disagrees with them. One benefit of the Trump era is there’s less doublespeak than before — it’s clearer than ever when someone is malicious and pleased with it. They’re happy to go on shows like The View or The Daily Show (truly another era, those were the days, we were once so innocent) and get in an argument, go on with their lives, and not take anything too personally. That version of the national debate, frankly, was far less honest than the truly soul-crushing ones we’re having now. But McCain so clearly takes all of her political dustups personally, sometimes to the point of tears, and the whole routine is woefully ineffective. Her behavior doesn’t endear her to either side; in fact, it makes her a target of tragic sexism (unfair but inevitable) and valid criticism over her white lady weeping willow routine (extremely fair).
“I like compromise,” McCain said in one The View segment in 2019. “I yearn for the era of Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan. I yearn for a time when we can talk to one another and it doesn’t turn into divisive tribalism. … I like the idea that we can actually sit down and compromise, but, again, I don’t know if the tribal left is going to go for it.” Claiming that civility no longer exists in politics thanks to the rage and frustration of the traditionally disenfranchised isn’t a new belief, but regardless, it’s not going to get you many friends on either side right now. The mistake she makes — which ultimately makes her so vulnerable — is that McCain wants to be viewed as a reasonable, defensible, and respectable conservative woman who sometimes disagrees with her friends. In a way, she’s become the physical embodiment of the civility argument. And who wants to have that argument anymore?
Maybe it’s because the internet has changed, or maybe it’s because the president has changed the rules of engagement, or maybe it’s because our attitudes around white women acting like attention-seeking crybabies have changed, but when McCain and Whoopi Goldberg argue, it’s very clear who comes out on top. In December, during a conversation about Trump’s impeachment trial, McCain got annoyed when her copanelists wouldn’t listen to her every word. “Do you want to hear a conservative perspective on this show ever?” she asked. “Girl, please stop talking. Please stop talking right now,” Goldberg told her. McCain responded she wouldn’t talk for the rest of the show — an obviously petulant and childish response to grown women having a disagreement. “I’m okay with that if you’re going to behave like this,” Goldberg said, scolding McCain. The comments on the viral video are pretty brutal toward McCain, though a select few people, including Ben Shapiro, supported her. Still, Shapiro isn’t exactly a paragon of civility in our time of endless partisan conflict.
Conflict appears to be unsavory to McCain, despite her willingness to court it. And while she might claim she wants everyone to listen to each other, it seems she mostly wants everyone to listen to her. “I implore everyone to stop being as partisan,” she said earlier in that same episode, arguing that the impeachment process has been unfairly biased “on both sides.” (Does she know how impeachment works?)
So perhaps no one is a better example of how centrism has failed than McCain, who’s constantly criticized on both sides of the aisle and doesn’t seem comfortable hearing or learning from any of it. In 2019, conservative writer Denise McAllister — a former writer for the Federalist, a website run by Ben Domenech, McCain’s husband, — mocked The View and its cohosts. In response, McCain wrote simply, “you were at my wedding Denise...” This is objectively hilarious but also a reminder that Republicans will only defend McCain if they absolutely have to. Generally speaking, she isn’t of their ilk.
In a way, she’s become the physical embodiment of the civility argument. And who wants to have that argument anymore?
When the audience booed the suggestion of a Trump reelection in an April 2019 episode, McCain (who says she doesn’t even like Trump!) tried to scold them, saying “Oh, I’m used to the audience booing me” in a tone that suggests that she is just, wow, super-not used to it. In 2018, during a conversation about John Kelly (who, by the way, loves Robert E. Lee), McCain snapped at the View audience for applauding his firing. “I just think it’s weird to be clapping. Whatever you think about his politics, he lost his son in combat for freedom,” she said, a continuation of her constant need to bring up her family’s service, as if being in the military precludes you from ever being wrong.
McCain is always desperate to play the victim, but her martyrdom as a conservative white woman is exhausting. Why should we feel sorry for her? Sure, she doesn’t support Trump, which somewhat sets her aside from the rest of her party, but that’s not enough anymore. When she has a chance to speak out about the administration, she rarely takes it.
“I consider myself a progressive Republican,” McCain wrote in 2017 in an op-ed for the Daily Beast about her issues with Ann Coulter. But what does that actually mean in practice? McCain’s policies are largely those of traditional Republicans – anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-military, pro-Israel — but she behaves in a manner that suggests she’s trying to set herself apart from the party itself. “I’m often criticized for not being a ‘real’ Republican, and I have been called a RINO — Republican In Name Only — in the past,” McCain wrote. “Many say I am not ‘conservative enough,’ which is something that I am proud of.” She wrote that just a few years ago, and it’s a real shift from where she is now: proudly and loudly touting her conservatism. “I try to just remind myself that I’m representing 50% of the country,” she told Entertainment Tonight last September. “I know there’s people in the middle of the country that feel like they’re really happy that someone is representing them.” McCain’s shtick is part self-martyring and part self-pitying.
Whenever she gets the chance to have Republicans feel bad for her, she milks it. Last week, the New York Times published an op-ed about The View’s “Meghan McCain Problem,” which McCain criticized on Twitter right after it was published. “Everyone already knows how much you despise red state, pro life, pro #2A conservative women, and wish we would all just go away,” she tweeted. “If the @nytimes wants to understand the country, maybe they should try having one woman in the room who doesn’t accept their groupthink on guns, abortion, and religion. Apparently that’s too much for them.” She spent most of the day retweeting defenses of her from people like Megyn Kelly (“The hatred for conservative women by the ‘woke’ is ever apparent”) and Joe Scarborough (“The existence of one moderately conservative woman poses a threat to civil discourse. Good lord. What a joke”).
McCain is begging for political civility in a world that no longer has the temperament for it, and she’s operating in a society that isn’t just catering to her anymore. And that is clearly making her upset. But it’s less and less interesting to hear the opinion of a wealthy white woman who comes from a political dynasty, who’s married to the publisher of a conservative news site that encouraged people to vote for Roy Moore after he was accused of assaulting minors, and who doesn’t seem to realize that her opinions aren’t interesting enough to merit a robust debate.
The View’s last big conservative talking head — before the time of Huntsman and McCain — was Elisabeth Hasselbeck, a blonde, straight, white woman with real Fox News looks (she’d end up there by 2013) who was previously best known for losing a season of Survivor. To her credit, Hasselbeck survived for 10 years on The View despite seemingly always being in conflict with one of the liberal heavy hitters on the show. In a decade’s worth of episodes, Hasselbeck’s contributions can be summed up in her two big fights: a dustup with Barbara Walters over the morning-after pill being available over the counter in 2006, and an infamous split-screen scrap with Rosie O’Donnell over the Iraq War in 2007.
But the response to Hasselbeck’s conservative views were markedly different than how McCain is received today. Joy Behar and Sherri Shepherd, who were also on the show during the Iraq War showdown, barely got involved. The audience clapped a few times for Hasselbeck, and, though the fight may have aged incredibly poorly for Hasselbeck, it’s not like O’Donnell got a clear win. “It’s much easier to fight someone like Donald Trump, isn’t it? Because he’s obnoxious,” Hasselbeck told O’Donnell — a sentence that, Christ, really puts the last three years into perspective. In this 2003 fight, the audience is placated in a hushed awe, unsure which of them to side with. Today, it’s pretty clear that the audience doesn’t side with McCain, most of the time, regardless of her opponent.
McCain’s shtick is part self-martyring and part self-pitying.
She’s bad at effectively articulating the perspectives she does have. When they fall flat, she tries her hardest to present a compelling narrative about her own victimization. That never works either. In a January 2019 segment on The View, in a conversation about Rep. Steve King’s racism — and whether Republicans are generally racist — McCain used it as an opportunity to derail the conversation to remind everyone exactly who she is: “I am John McCain’s daughter! I am not someone who sits there and is okay with racism in any way whatsoever!” Last December, after her fight with Goldberg during which she was sharply told to be quiet, McCain tweeted, “Good morning — to all the fellow conservative ‘girls’ who won’t be quiet,” along with a GIF of (Jesus Christ) the Mother of Dragons.
Who are the people trying to silence the host of a popular talk show with millions of viewers, or generally stomping on her ability to say and do whatever she wants? Her victim response is strong, even if her convictions are not: In our current political moment, vaguely disagreeing with the executive branch will never be enough when that administration is putting children in cages and trying to ban people of certain religions from entering the country.
McCain’s television shtick is prototypical entitled white woman behavior. She’s happy to start an argument but cries if she doesn’t get what she wants. (Remember in 2016 when McCain said Obama’s tears over the 27 people killed in the Newtown shooting looked like “bad political theater”? A bunch of YouTube commenters sure do!) No wonder it’s so fun to watch four other women, often black women, like Goldberg and Sunny Hostin, destroy her using basic logic. McCain is routinely trying to weaponize her white tears, her father’s legacy, her plea for civility — and it never works. No one buys that she’s utterly devastated by Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments on Israel because McCain has Jewish friends. She has become the worst kind of television pundit: a person who cries on television when the argument doesn’t go her way and then suggests her critics are being sexist if they cross her.
And while it’s been fun to watch McCain get shot down on live television, making fun of her increasingly seems like punching down. Mostly because it’s just so easy. But the glee — and the discomfort with the glee (at least for me, personally) — is linked to her seeming lack of self-awareness, her refusal to listen to anything other than her own anxiety-filled voice as she yells at everyone to stop talking and just listen to her. She just makes it so hard to feel sorry for Meghan McCain. ●
Elisabeth Hasselbeck fought with Rosie O'Donnell about the Iraq War in 2007. A previous version of this story misstated the year.