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Cindy McCain looks at the future of the Republican Party

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Former President Trump's impeachment trial may be over, but the work of repairing the Republican Party is just beginning. Lee Cowan sat down with Cindy McCain - wife of the late Republican Senator John McCain - to talk about what lies ahead and how she's using her voice to help bridge the divide.

Video Transcript

- Former President Trump's impeachment trial may be over, but what lies ahead for the Republican Party is still a question mark. This morning, Lee Cowan is in conversation with Cindy McCain, wife of late Republican Senator John McCain.

CINDY MCCAIN: I still suffer from a little bit of you know feeling not adequate sometimes, you know, like, Oh who would listen to me kind of thing.

LEE COWAN: But they do.

CINDY MCCAIN: I know. I know they do, and I'm grateful for that.

LEE COWAN: Cindy McCain--

CINDY MCCAIN: Thank you.

LEE COWAN: She's no stranger to the sway her last name brings in politics.

JOHN MCCAIN: Most people say, why isn't she the candidate, my wife Cindy McCain.

LEE COWAN: For nearly four decades, during her husband's life of public service she was right there by his side, including his 2 runs for the White House. She lost Senator John McCain in 2018 to brain cancer. The man who was never president was mourned by several. What do you miss most about him, you think?

CINDY MCCAIN: Oh gosh, I miss the-- I never thought I would say this-- I miss the chaos in the house because--

LEE COWAN: His chaos?

CINDY MCCAIN: Yeah, his chaos. When he would walk in the door-- and I mean that in a good way, it's good chaos-- there was always action happening. It was always something. I miss that. I miss the commotion. And I miss-- I miss his partnership and his friendship and his love. And it's-- you know, you just-- it's day by day.

LEE COWAN: And with his passing it's been said the Senate lost its conscience too. So where is the moral center now without him?

CINDY MCCAIN: We're going to find it again. It swung right now-- our side is swung way to the right. It'll come back. It'll come back.

LEE COWAN: To see just how far that political pendulum has swung she says, look, no further than former President Trump's second impeachment trial. [BANGING]

[YELLING]

- He's got a gun. I said, he's got a gun!

LEE COWAN: 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.

CINDY MCCAIN: We have got to overcome this. We have to, not just as a party but as a country. We cannot allow this.

LEE COWAN: Do you think there will be a split within the party?

CINDY MCCAIN: Yeah, probably, maybe. I know something's going to happen. I know that much. Or our party's dead if we don't.

LEE COWAN: What do you think the Senator would have done if he'd been there?

CINDY MCCAIN: Oh, he would have gone in the Hall and started fighting. I mean, he absolutely-- he wouldn't have hidden. I can guarantee you would have gone to the safe room. I'm not suggesting there was anything inappropriate about going to the safe room but-- but just-- he was a fighter. He would never have stood by and let that happen. He just wouldn't have done it.

- Cindy McCain, wife of the late Republican Senator John McCain, is endorsing Joe Biden for president.

LEE COWAN: Months before the attack she felt so strongly, she publicly urged her fellow Republicans to turn their backs on the Trump wing of the party and vote for Joe Biden for president instead . It was obviously a decision you didn't take lightly.

CINDY MCCAIN: No, I didn't. No, no. I thought about it a great deal and prayed about it. And I could no longer sit back and yell at the television set like everybody else and just complain without doing something. And so I did the only thing I knew and that was to support him.

LEE COWAN: There have been whispers out there about a possible role in the administration. Would you be open to something like that?

CINDY MCCAIN: I want 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 says to you, we need you.

LEE COWAN: The McCains and the Bidens have been friends for a long time. It was first lady Jill Biden who actually introduced John McCain to the then Cindy Lou Hensley back in 1979.

CINDY MCCAIN: It was a cocktail party in Hawaii and I was with my parents. Jill's the one that said, why don't you go over and talk to her because I guess he was looking my way. I wasn't paying any attention anyway. I don't know.

LEE COWAN: McCain would later join Biden in the Senate. And although their view across the aisle was different on so many issues, their friendship never wavered.

CINDY MCCAIN: 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.

LEE COWAN: And afterwards maintain those relationships.

CINDY MCCAIN: Oh my God, they were best friends. I mean, it was never personal.

LEE COWAN: But her endorsement was personal for the Arizona GOP. They voted to censure Cindy McCain for her apparent defection in supporting a Democrat. Does that mean anything? What does that mean?

CINDY MCCAIN: Oh god, it's laughable. I'm sorry. There are a lot of names in the Arizona Republican Party that have been censored, so-- so I'm going to have t-shirts made with all the names on it.

LEE COWAN: But she wasn't just the Mavericks wife. She had a political life of her own working with the McCain Institute on human rights issues, especially human trafficking. But she's never had any desire to run for elected office herself, she says, still doesn't.

CINDY MCCAIN: And then these are all the babies now.

LEE COWAN: She's found that 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 started creating recipes for what she called quarantine cocktails and posted them on Instagram.

LEE COWAN: And it kind of took off, didn't it?

CINDY MCCAIN: It did take off. I did not expect that at all.

LEE COWAN: One of the most popular--

CINDY MCCAIN: I'm glad you're here cause I would have it on the ceiling.

LEE COWAN: Was her blended watermelon Margarita. Cheers.

CINDY MCCAIN: Cheers. They're fun.

LEE COWAN: Indeed, they are. Oh, it's strong, but that is good.

CINDY MCCAIN: It is. We probably-- probably could of got away with the 8 ounces.

LEE COWAN: She does have a lot to toast despite it all. A stroke in 2004 left both her mobility and her spirits in pretty rough shape. To boost those spirits she returned to a love she'd had for a long time, cars, race cars, especially, and took lessons in the art of drift racing.

CINDY MCCAIN: It's how to keep the car under control at the most out of control point, you know, you're about to lose it.

LEE COWAN: Yep, that used to be her sliding around corners like that at speeds that would make the rest of us blanch, but not her. How much do you think that contributed to, sort of, getting you past your stroke.

CINDY MCCAIN: 100%. Being able to celebrate something that I can do and learn and-- and it just meant everything to me. She confronted her fear of flying in much the same way. In the 80s, she bought a Cessna 182 and she learned to fly it herself.

CINDY MCCAIN: 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.

LEE COWAN: Grief, however, is proving a tougher obstacle to overcome. 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. Give you be a little bit of a fresh start, a little bit?

CINDY MCCAIN: Yeah, I just kind of wanted to just be-- be up here.

LEE COWAN: The senator's presence though still looms large. Bits of his life are everywhere here. By the fire are the shoes McCain wore during his first campaign for Congress back in 1982. She had them bronzed.

CINDY MCCAIN: The bronzing company wrote me back and said, are you sure you want to do these shoes like this? We usually get baby shoes. But I said, nope, I want to--

LEE COWAN: Look at the holes and everything

CINDY MCCAIN: Yeah, complete with the holes.

LEE COWAN: 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 and that she says, is what still matters the most. Is there a pressure to carry on the senator's legacy or do you feel like you almost have to do it?

CINDY MCCAIN: It's not-- It's not a pressure. It's what I need to do and maybe for my grandchildren. You know, that's part of it too. I want them to know him, even though they never will. I would like them to know him.