Meghan McCain is a 23-year-old, socially liberal John Kerry voter who loves Superbad, Dita von Teese, Bud Light (see right hand), and campaign blogging. Trouble is, this self-described “Daddy’s girl” will do—and say—almost anything to help her 71-year-old father win the White House
By Greg Veis; Photograph by Jeff Riedel
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Meghan McCain arrives at the door to her apartment out of breath and wobbly in calf-high boots. It’s a seventy-five-degree February afternoon in Phoenix, and the 23-year-old daughter of the presumptive Republican nominee for president is wearing a black leather jacket over a scarf and gray scoop-neck T-shirt. I extend my hand to introduce myself, but she knocks it down and wraps me up in a bear hug.
“I’ve never had anybody fly across the country for me who I wasn’t dating,” she says. “I’m so flattered!”
Meghan’s parents, Senator John and Cindy McCain, bought her this loft around the time she graduated from Columbia
University last spring, and the interior looks like a spaceship furnished by West Elm. There’s a giant silver chimney that extends out of her fireplace into the ceiling about twenty feet above. Across the living room is a very stylish and very uncomfortable-looking pod chair. And then there’s Meghan’s prized tchotchke of the moment: a skull that, when you open its mouth, reveals a clock.
“You like it, right?” she asks, opening it for me. “Because I told my friends I’d throw it away if the GQ guy didn’t like it. I totally love it, though! It’s ironic!”
She leads me into the kitchen. On a perch above the cabinets, wooden block letters are arranged to spell indulge. Meghan then invites me to inspect her refrigerator, like the celebrities do on MTV Cribs. Inside are some Bud Light cans, a six-pack of Stella Artois, and twelve cups of Jell-O pudding.
Alas, the tour stops here. Meghan won’t show me her bedroom—it’s too messy, she says. Besides, she’s starving, and she really wants to take me to lunch at one of her favorite restaurants ever, Garduño’s Margarita Factory.
On the drive there, I handle the wheel and Meghan fills the silence. I learn the basics of her past few years: how she graduated from Columbia (“I loved it so much”); how she wanted to be a music journalist but doesn’t anymore; how she got prize internships at Newsweek and Saturday Night Live.
Meghan’s cultural tastes are pretty straight down the middle for a recent college grad. She went crazy for Superbad, Knocked Up, and The Big Lebowski (“I fucking love that movie”). On TV she’s currently riveted by MTV’s A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. “It’s a bisexual-dating show!” she cries. “It’s hilarious!”
When she ticks off a list of celebrities she’s into, she offers a surprising pick: the burlesque stripper Dita Von Teese. “I know she’s not someone you would expect the daughter of a Republican candidate to like, but I love her,” she says. “I love the way she dresses. If I could look like that all day, I would…in her day clothes, I mean.
“And, yes, I know she’s a fetish star, but”—she lowers her head for this—“I think that’s rock ’n’ roll.”
*****Meghan has been
given a prominent place in her father’s presidential campaign, most notably with her blog, McCainBlogette.com
. Loosely inspired, she says—loosely!—by Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72,
McCain Blogette is a sometimes irreverent, sometimes overly rah-rah account of life on the Straight Talk Express (“Lindsey Graham is hilarious!”), with tons of photographs and even iPod playlists (favorites have included Wolfmother and Hot Hot Heat). Charming and self-deprecating, McCain Blogette often makes Meghan’s 71-year-old father seem less old, which is surely one of the reasons it exists, even if Meghan occasionally does something like refer to Barack Obama as “sexy,” which she did right before the New Hampshire primary.
Today Meghan doesn’t back off that observation at all. “He’s a rock star,” she says of the Illinois senator. “Everybody flipped out, but I think universally women find him attractive. Whatever.”
By the time we arrive at Garduño’s, the discussion has moved on to the Romney brothers’ dad, Mitt. It’s two days after he suspended his run, and we’re trying to puzzle out why voters never really got around to liking the guy.
“Mitt didn’t keep it real,” Meghan says, munching on a nacho chip.
At the time of our meeting, John McCain’s pretty much got it in the bag. His closest GOP competitor is Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher who has managed to siphon off a surprising number of right-wing voters. Some have suggested that John McCain consider Huckabee as a potential running mate, to placate the Bible Belt.
“That’s not going to happen,” Meghan says firmly. “I don’t think they’d be a good match for a lot of reasons and am not even sure if that’s what Huckabee’s going for, anyway. I think he wants to be the head of the evangelical movement.”
Meghan’s dad, however, very much wants to be president. While she’s delighted to see her father out in front, Meghan sometimes misses the humbler days of the McCain ’08 campaign.
“Over the summer, it was like we were uncool,” she says. “We were the rejects at the other table that nobody wants to hang out with.”
Meghan recalls the day when actor Wilford Brimley, he of the Quaker Oats ads, called to offer his support. An operative got off the phone and grandly announced to the room, “We’ve got Brimley!” The phrase, she says, became a rallying cry for the campaign.
But now everything’s changed. Dad is on the cover of Time and Newsweek, and no one laughs when he talks about the White House, even as sworn enemies like Rush Limbaugh fret about his conservative credentials. Meanwhile, the media glare has intensified on everyone in the family. Dad would soon be batting off questions in The New York Times about an allegedly improper relationship with a female lobbyist. But as the daughter of a four-term senator, Meghan is hardly unfamiliar with the rumor mill.
“You want to hear a hilarious story?” she asks. “I guess you can print this if you want, but it’s not my finest moment. Once, this guy at Columbia was talking to his friends. He was like, ‘Meghan McCain this’ and ‘Meghan McCain that,’ going on, saying that he’d slept with me and that it was great. I just happened to be walking by at the time. I was like, ‘Hi, I’m Meghan McCain. I didn’t realize that we’d met.’ He turned ghost white, so I showed him my ID, and I was like, ‘I’m glad you were sharing our passionate love story.’ ”
Meghan confesses that her real love life hasn’t been especially active lately. She’s gone on only one official date since her dad’s campaign began, but she bowed out early with a “headache.” Then there was also the rumor that she’d been seen with—horrors—a Ron Paul supporter.
“That has been blown out of proportion in every way!” she exclaims. “What happened is that I dropped my coffee and he helped me with it and was like, ‘Do you want to go to Baja Fresh?’… Not that I would be against dating a Ron Paul supporter, but he turned out to be very strange. He collected Barbie dolls. I called my girlfriends after and was like, ‘That’s weird, right?’ ”
“I like bad boys for the most part,” Meghan adds. “In the past, I have liked tattooed guys who wear Converse. But I’d be open to anyone as long as you have a sense of humor. I have also dated totally normal guys who look like you, I guess—D.C.-looking guys.”
“Journalist, yuppie, metrosexual guys. How’s that? You’re metro.”
“I’m an acquired taste,” Meghan says matter-of-factly. “I’m a daughter of a Republican senator. I started dating this guy, and he wouldn’t date me anymore because he found out who my dad was. He says, ‘I don’t agree with his politics.’ Isn’t that terrible? That’s why you’re dumping me? We only went on two dates, but still. Not everybody wants to go out with somebody so high-profile. If they do, they’re investment bankers. Seriously. Ugh! If you’re an investment banker, don’t hit on me. You can quote me. I’m not interested.”
Besides, it’s not like Meghan has ever toed the Republican Party line. It’s well- known that four years ago, when her father decided it’d be in his best interest to back George W. Bush’s reelection, she voted for John Kerry. “My dad actually outed me,” she says.
“I’m an Independent. Socially liberal, economically conservative. I believe in a lot of Republican ideals, with the war being the number one thing I completely agree with my dad on.”
Later on I hear from Meghan’s mother, Cindy McCain, who insists that the two simply “love the debate” and aren’t as far apart as they’ve often been portrayed.
“They’re very similar,” Cindy says. “They’re both very intelligent and very direct in terms of—I mean this in a good way—their knowing what they want and knowing how to get there.”
Meghan puts it more succinctly: “I’m almost incapable of bullshit. He’s the same way.”
Indeed, John McCain is nobody’s idea of ideologically consistent, and it’s tempting to interpret his daughter’s progressive positions as evidence that life in the McCain household isn’t exactly a revival weekend at Bob Jones University. But Meghan sees her father’s politics as common sense.
“My dad was tortured in prison; he doesn’t overreact to things. So if he starts freaking out, you know it’s time to freak out,” she says. “And I think he’s freaking out about the environment. He’s like, ‘I’m genuinely worried about climate change; it’s happening right now.’ ”
As for her father’s positive stance on stem-cell research, Meghan says, “He was on that in 2000, 2001. I remember he met with Michael J. Fox, and that was a big thing for him.” I ask her about Rush Limbaugh’s mocking of Fox during the 2006 congressional elections. “It was disgusting. Just gross. I don’t listen [to Rush]. I don’t really watch Hannity & Colmes and shows like that where I know they’re going to talk bad about my dad.”
It’s clear that Meghan inherited her father’s devil-may-care streak.
“Yeah, he was a little rebel when he was my age,” Meghan says. “I’d rather that than if he were boring.”
John wasn’t the original McCain hellion, though. Meghan mentions her grandmother, 96-year-old Roberta McCain, who occasionally joins her son on the trail. Meghan calls her grandmother “crazy in a good way.”
“Nana drives fast,” Meghan says. “She got pulled over for doing 112 in Flagstaff about a year ago.”
A couple of days after my meeting with Meghan, I get a telephone call from Senator McCain. He chuckles at the mention of his daughter’s modern tastes—“She knows how old-fashioned I am in both clothes fashion and music. I’m completely hopeless”—but says he’s a devotee of her blog.
By now, Senator McCain is well versed in talking about his daughter’s liberal side, and he’s ready when I bring it up. “I’m a little bit more conservative than she is,” he says. “The one thing about people who are your parents is they’re certainly not as well-informed as you are. I found that out when I was growing up. But the older I got, the wiser they got, you know.”
It’s a funny line, but it’s also true that by running for president, McCain is subjecting his daughter to more scrutiny than any kid should be forced to experience. When I ask the senator about FDR’s old quote—“One of the worst things in the world is being the child of a president”—he pauses momentarily.
“It’s very, very tough,” McCain says soberly. “You’re in the spotlight all the time, and there’s scrutiny, and young people are going to make mistakes in their lives, and we all understand that. It always presents some challenges to the children of presidents. Meghan doesn’t have to worry about that yet.” And with that, John McCain chortled loudly.
*****there’s surely a side
to her father that Meghan McCain would love to show us but can’t, because, well, you know. She hints at her parents’ interior lives only slightly and only when talking about her mother, Cindy, who often looks stoic and reserved on TV. “People ask me if my mom’s hot,” Meghan says. “That’s my mom!
But what people don’t know is that she’s actually hilarious. She really liked Knocked Up
and Wedding Crashers.
Surely there’ll be a talk-show host somewhere who will flip out about these trivial revelations, as if the suggestion a presidential wife actually laughed at a joke in a movie starring a pot-smoking Seth Rogen might somehow send America over the precipice. Surely, Hannity and the boys are going to love to make hay over Meghan’s avowed love for bisexual-dating shows and Dita Von Teese, and for such admissions as “I have a pretty dirty mouth, normally.… I love swearing. Whatever.”
Win or lose, Meghan insists she wants to “properly commemorate the experience” by getting another tattoo at the end of the campaign. (She already has a star outline on the top of her right foot, a souvenir of spring break in San Diego last year.) She and her friends are batting around ideas. The only proposal that’s gained any traction so far is to have mccain written in Old English on the small of her back.
I ask her if she’s ever heard of a bull’s-eye tattoo.
“Yeah, that’s why I’m not going to do that one,” she says. “It’s overplayed, anyway.”
greg veis is a deputy online editor at The New Republic.