There’s the day-or-night Facetiming; the text thread full of memes and funny tweets that one or the other has missed; that one bathroom conversation at dinner about whether or not Huntsman, 33, liked McCain’s new boyfriend (spoiler: she did — and then McCain, 35, married him).
And then there’s the hours and hours of advice given and received: No, don’t wear that bright blue jumpsuit on the air while pregnant; yes, I will feel that weird lump on your chest in case it’s something more serious. (Luckily it wasn’t.)
“We’re like salt and pepper, right?” Huntsman, the daughter of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., recently told PEOPLE in her dressing room with McCain sitting nearby.
“I always say, ‘Everyone needs salt and pepper and you need them both together.’ You don’t just want the pepper and you don’t just want the salt.”
It’s practically a cottage industry trying to dissect who on The View — the top-rated daytime talk show Huntsman and McCain, 35, co-host with Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg and Sunny Hostin — likes who else, who is feuding with whom and who is trying to cut a hole out of their contract to use as an escape hatch.
McCain, the show’s most conservative voice, is also its most guarded host. She’ll tell you that. “This show nicknamed me ‘the Ice Queen,’ ” she says.
In truth, most days, she is sitting a few feet away from one of her closest friends — a bond forged by their similarities as much as their differences and their years together, first in national politics and then in media.
They tell this story about how they first became friends: Huntsman and McCain were both living in New York City and working at Fox News and Huntsman texted McCain, asking if she wanted to have a drink.
“I think it was my mom, she was like, ‘You and Meghan have so much in common, you guys have got to just connect,’ ” Huntsman remembers.
She was right.
“We have had so many bad experiences in this industry, where women were not supporting other women. And I’ve seen it and experienced it, and Abby’s seen it and experienced it,” McCain says. “Everybody always tries to pit us against each other or act like there’s only one job for one politician’s daughter,” she continues.
“And we said the day we got margaritas that we were never going to go low and be that and not support each other,” McCain says. No matter what.
“Since margaritas to now, she’s had three children, my dad died, I had a miscarriage, we work on The f—— View,” McCain says, her voice sharpening just as it often does on the show — razor-like but not unaware of how her anger sounds and how to make it a little funny.
It’s true: It’s been a year for both Huntsman and McCain and to get through it they’ve relied, in part, on each other in different ways.
Huntsman warms McCain — breaks through her shell — and McCain will always tell Huntsman the truth. (And when there’s a conflict, Huntsman is the one knocking on McCain’s door, telling her they need to talk about it.)
“It’s good for me to give a little bit of me to her and her to give a little bit of me,” McCain says.
“I don’t want to be friends with myself,” Huntsman says. “I don’t want to be friends with someone that’s exactly like me, because you don’t learn as much.”
“You make me stronger,” she tells McCain.
McCain was Huntsman’s first call when she found out she was pregnant with twins, whom she welcomed in June, followed by a two-week stay in the NICU for infant daughter Ruby.
And Huntsman was one of the first people McCain told about her recent pregnancy, which ended in a miscarriage, as she revealed this summer.
“We were texting each other and I’m like, ‘I’m here for you,’ she’s like, ‘I’m here for you,’ ” Huntsman says. “And I’m like, Here we are, two women going through very scary things, very emotional things, and we can still — she was there for me, supportive and loving, no matter what she went through. And I think that told me so much about her as a person.”
“I know there are women, when they experience miscarriages, can’t be around pregnancy, which I totally get,” McCain says. But it was different for her: Huntsman “got pregnant right after my dad died. … I thought it was so beautiful: a reminder of the cycle of life.”
McCain, who says she and husband Ben Domenech are still trying to figure out whether they might try for more children, is especially connected to Huntsman’s youngest son, William.
“I was so sad throughout the whole thing and it just felt like so much darkness and sadness and then I remember going over to her apartment right after they [the twins] were born and I have a picture of him laying on me,” McCain says. “She was saying there’s actually something medical about babies laying on you — nurturing and soothing.”
“Skin to skin,” Huntsman interjects.
Friends for this long, they have a shared shorthand about certain things: stories they finish and tells to their true feelings. (“Abby was in shock” during The View‘s interview with Pamela Anderson, McCain says. “I looked at her face and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I know something’s going down.’ “)
They both know they’re in a brighter-than-normal spotlight, given how President Donald Trump has fueled interest in politics — and the ratings of The View, where Trump is a nearly daily topic.
And this brings us to Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and Don Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. The couple appeared on Nov. 7 on The View, for the first time ever, ostensibly to promote Don Jr.’s new book, Triggered.
Instead, he and Guilfoyle, an adviser to the president’s re-election campaign, sparred with the hosts about impeachment, the Bidens and President Trump’s divisive style. Huntsman led the questioning, pressing Don Jr. about why he revealed the alleged name of the government whistleblower at the center of the impeachment investigation into President Trump.
McCain’s father, the late Sen. John McCain, has been a favorite target of the president’s even after McCain’s death from brain cancer last year.
She did not speak during Don Jr.’s appearance on The View — save for one segment where she told him, “Mr. Trump, a lot of Americans in politics miss character, and a lot of people miss the soul of this country. You and your family have hurt a lot of people and put a lot of people through a lot of pain, including the Khan family, who is a Gold Star family that I think should be respected for the loss of their son. Does all of this make you feel good?”
Huntsman tells PEOPLE she and McCain “talked a ton” ahead of that interview. Beforehand, McCain told her, “I really need you on this one.”
“You had every reason to want to get it right,” Huntsman tells McCain in their PEOPLE interview. (For the record, they say they didn’t interact much, if at all, with Don Jr. or Guilfoyle while off-camera.)
“I had a really hard time with the Don Jr. interview, really hard,” McCain says. “And I just was asking for advice afterward.”
“It was tough for everybody, but it wasn’t like we were sitting there calling people names,” Huntsman says.
“I knew doing the interview with Don Jr., I knew I would obviously be safe with everyone, but I told Abby, ‘My normal spitfire, I just don’t have the emotional bandwidth for it,’ ” McCain says. “And I knew she would take the lead and she f—— did amazingly.”
She also gives Huntsman credit for her questioning in an ABC News interview with Ivanka Trump, the president’s oldest daughter and a senior aide.
Huntsman and McCain have talked about the idea of a podcast together as a way to have more in-depth conversations with interview subjects.
McCain, drolly, says, “I wanted to call it Sick of This S— with Abby and Meghan.”
“We have a lot of friends that are Democrat, Libertarian, whatever anyone wants to be. It’s not contentious,” Huntsman says.
The times being what they are though, with divisions widening and tempers flaring, they say they feel out of step with a Republican Party (and, in a way, politics at large) that is more interested in conflict than conciliation.
“Now, we’re in this place where we’re like, ‘We don’t fit in,’ ” Huntsman says, “‘We can’t even have conversations.’ “
“It makes me feel alone,” McCain says. “But then I don’t feel as alone, because I know Abby feels the same way.”