Waiting to Exhale: On Meghan McCain’s Departure from ‘The View’

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On Friday, August 6th, Meghan McCain’s chokehold on The View comes to an end. The conservative personality joined the popular daytime show in October 2017 at the gentle behest of her late father, Arizona Senator John McCain. “It’s such a privilege to be on this show,” she said during her first episode. “To be a conservative on this show is something that I take very seriously.”

Arriving in the midst of the Trump era, McCain added a necessary — albeit bristling — perspective. She represented young, conservative women in the United States who remained loyal to the Republican Party but had not yet fallen into the nasty trap of Trumpism. Her father was well-respected and she knew the Beltway well, facts that lent her contributions heft and legitimacy. Her presence allowed the show to continue creating an atmosphere of civil discourse, to hold on to a fantastical sense of political politesse. On The View, people could reach “across the aisle” to share differing opinions and often locate a bit of common ground, as politics were discussed alongside lighter celebrity gossip and interviews.

Much has been written about McCain’s tenure on the show, from gossipy items about her supposed insufferability to think pieces about the love-to-hate-her role she seemed to play in the left-leaning imagination. Her outfits and hairdos have also come under scrutiny on social media. Are these wildly varied, sometimes frankly unflattering and vaguely culturally appropriative looks intentional? Are we being trolled? Is her stylist sabotaging her? (The official answer is no, but we can dream.) Her words never failed to fuel headlines: She was always “blasting,” “slamming” or “whining.”

I tried not to pay too much attention to McCain, frequently finding her more boring and overexposed than anything else. But certain parts of her performance fascinated me. What’s interesting about McCain is less her brand of conservatism or what she adds to the genteel feminist image The View tries to curate, and more her particular style of American individualism: Over the past few years, she has become an expert at making everything about herself; she is quick to demand empathy and respect without any intention of reciprocity; and the concept of teamwork consistently eludes her.

You don’t have to look far for examples, but it’s useful to start with that first episode, in which she stated her intentions and teased what would become her most distinctive legacy on the show: monopolizing airtime.

In the eight-minute segment, McCain, donning a deep violet dress, hair straightened, eyelids smokey, shares her excitement about becoming a host. She tells a story about her father urging her to take the offer, and launches into a monologue that at first appears to be an expression of gratitude for cohost Whoopi Goldberg. But it morphs into an underhanded jab at another host, brash liberal comedian Joy Behar, whose tense relationship with McCain has been at the center of the media narrative about The View for the last four years. McCain calls Goldberg “a mentor and First Lady of The View,” and after the audience claps, she turns to Behar and says: “And you are also, Joy, but you didn’t reach out to me like Whoopi has.”

The comment, which, if you’re feeling generous, could be read as a joke, detracts from a potentially gracious moment and adds nothing meaningful to the conversation. Its only purpose seems to be giving McCain a few seconds to air a personal grievance, which is at best awkward and at worst uncomfortable.

Despite a bumpy first day, McCain went on to play her role as the conservative voice, and her willingness to criticize Trump and his loyalists earned her some credibility and good will among viewers and colleagues. Yet her condemnation of the former president never truly evolved beyond the personal into something more principled; her anti-Trump stance seemed to be one of convenience, more about his constant taunting of her father and her family than his hateful policies and rhetoric.

It made sense, then, that after Trump left office and McCain returned to The View from maternity leave, she kicked her right-wing talking points into high gear. She frequently interrupted her colleagues to announce her personal relationship to a topic, whether it was Fox News meteorologist Janice Dean’s feud with Andrew Cuomo, her passion for guns or her conviction that “abortion is murder.” She was rigid, stubborn, even relentless, when it came to her targets, who included Dr. Anthony Fauci, Vice President Kamala Harris and — a bit surprisingly, given her long-claimed affection for him — new President Joe Biden. She dug in, more and more unwilling to even try to see beyond her own narrow sphere of experience. (The elephant in the room that no one seemed to want to acknowledge: McCain’s husband, conservative firebrand and cofounder of The Federalist Ben Domenech, is a rising star on Fox News. Draw your own conclusions.)

McCain’s increasingly vitriolic comments, self-absorption and constant claims of being misunderstood reached new peaks. Her cohosts could no longer hide their exasperation at her rudest moments, and her relationship with Goldberg and Behar seemed visibly strained, at times downright hostile. In the May 24 episode, McCain launched into what can only be described as a tirade, arguing that the show did not take anti-Semitism seriously — a claim all of McCain’s colleagues, especially Goldberg and Behar, vehemently rejected. Then it was time for commercial break and McCain, like a child, began to protest. “Why are you cutting me off?” she shrieked, her high blonde ponytail moving vigorously. “I’m cutting you off because we have to go Meghan!” Goldberg snapped in annoyance.

When Barbara Walters started The View in 1997, she envisioned it as a space where women from different generations and with opposing views could come together and chat. Opinions were, and continue to be, the point of the program. McCain’s bratty antics initially benefited ABC: Even if you didn’t like what she said, it was easy to become addicted to the drama she created.

But what made McCain good TV at the beginning eventually became a curse. Her behavior — immature, petulant and brimming with negativity — grew old. The show became less about the dynamic set of hosts and the interplay between them, and more about her. If McCain felt a topic beneath her, she made it known. If she felt attacked, she made it known. If she was even mildly annoyed, well, you guessed it: She made it known. Some of her cohosts, like Sunny Hostin and Sara Haines, became near-stoic in the face of McCain’s outbursts. They often responded with poker faces and pleasant smiles.

In an episode last Thursday, the hosts discussed the COVID-19 vaccine and changing mask protocols as the Delta variant surges all over the country. “I have a whole different take and perspective on this,” McCain began before talking about what she considers the nation’s mental and spiritual sickness and suggesting that the mandates curtail individual liberties. Nowhere in her rant was an acknowledgement of how masks help stop the spread of the virus, a benefit to people who do not have access to the vaccine, particularly children and the immunocompromised.

Nor did McCain seem to consider the nation’s responsibility in helping end the pandemic. Instead, her reaction was grounded in personal annoyance, inconvenience, self-pitying grievance — the epitome of what McCain had come to represent on The View.

At the end of her monologue, Goldberg’s face said more than any words could. She stared blankly into the distance, as if she had spent the last five minutes tuning McCain out. Then, she raised both eyebrows, sighed and moved on to her next co-host. It was a subtle but unmistakable moment — a barometer of where, after four years, we are all at with Meghan McCain.