Arizona Horizon: John McCain’s presidential campaigns

More from this show

“Arizona Horizon” continues our coverage of the late Arizona Senator John McCain. We talk to Wes Gullet, CEO of OH Strategic Communication, who worked on McCain’s two presidential campaigns about his recollections of the late senator.

TED: ALSO TODAY PRESIDENT TRUMP DECIDED TO LOWER U.S. FLAGS AT THE WHITE HOUSE IN HONOR OF McCAIN, THIS AFTER THE AMERICAN LEGION AND A NUMBER OF LAWMAKERS PUSHED THE PRESIDENT TO MAKE THE MOVE. THE PRESIDENT RELEASED THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT: “DESPITE OUR DIFFERENCES ON POLICY AND POLITICS, I RESPECT SENATOR JOHN McCAIN’S SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY AND, IN HIS HONOR, HAVE SIGNED A PROCLAMATION TO FLY THE FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES AT HALF-STAFF UNTIL THE DAY OF HIS INTERMENT.” WELL, JOINING US NOW TO TALK ABOUT SENATOR McCAIN IS WES GULLETT, A CEO OF OH STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, FORMER DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR McCAIN’S 2000 PRESIDENTIAL BID. HE ALSO WORKED ON THE 2008 McCAIN CAMPAIGN. GOOD TO SEE YOU. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING HERE. YOU’VE GOT MEMORIES OF YOUR WORKING CLOSELY WITH JOHN McCAIN. SHARE SOME OF THOSE WITH US, PLEASE.

WES GULLETT: WELL, TED, THANKS FOR HAVING ME. YOU KNOW THESE ARE TOUGH TIMES. I NEVER THOUGHT THAT I WOULD IMAGINE A DAY THAT JOHN McCAIN WASN'T GOING TO BE THERE. AND SO IT'S HARD -- I'M SORRY THAT RICK HAD TO READ THE LETTER, BECAUSE I COULDN'T HAVE DONE IT, AND THERE ARE VERY FEW PEOPLE WHO COULD. THAT’S PROBABLY WHY SALTER DIDN’T READ BECAUSE HE WOULD HAVE CRIED HIS WAY THROUGH IT. YOU KNOW, THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF TEARS AND, YOU KNOW, SATURDAY WHEN WE GOT THE NEWS THAT JOHN HAD PASSED, IT WAS JUST -- YOU KNOW, IT WAS JUST SOMETHING THAT WE COULD -- EVEN THOUGH WE SAW IT COMING, WE DIDN'T BELIEVE IT HAD FINALLY HAPPENED, BUT TO YOUR POINT ABOUT -- WE HAD AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF GOOD TIMES, AND I WILL -- YOU KNOW, MY -- OUR FRIENDSHIP, DEB AND I WORKED FOR HIM A LONG TIME, BETWEEN THE TWO OF US, I THINK 14 YEARS. IT WAS A NON-STOP RACOUS AND JOVIAL TIME. THERE WERE A NUMBER OF REPORTERS WHO WOULD ALWAYS ASK ME—WOW McCAIN’S GOT SUCH A TEMPER, HE’S SO MEAN—HE’S ALWAYS MAD. AND I WAS ALWAYS LIKE, WELL, IT’S PASSION. JOHN McCAIN IS PASSIONATE. WELL, A PASSIONATE GUY—SOUNDED LIKE HE WAS YELLING AT ME. AND I SAID WELL HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN MORE THAN PASSIONATE WITH YOU YESTERDAY. [ LAUGHTER ]

TED: BUT THAT WAS HONEST PASSION. IT WASN’T FAKE PASSION, IT WASN’T PUT ON PASSION. AND EVEN IF IT WASN’T--YOU KNOW-- FIRE AND BRIMSTONE, WHICH IT COULD BE AT TIMES, IT WAS STILL -- IT WAS STILL A PASSIONATE HONESTY THERE. I THINK PEOPLE SAW THAT, TOO.

WES GULLETT: RIGHT. YOU KNOW, HE WAS -- WELL, SO JOHN WAS A PATRIOT FIRST AND FOREMOST. HE LOVED AMERICA. BUT HE LOVED ARIZONA TOO, SO WE WOULD -- AND MY JOB ORIGINALLY ON HIS 1986 CAMPAIGN, WHICH WAS 32 YEARS AGO, WAS TO DRIVE HIM AROUND THE STATE AND WE CAMPAIGNED ALL OVER, AND I WAS THE FIELD GUY, SO I WAS THE ONE WHO HAD TO ADVANCE THE TRIPS THAT WE WENT ON, AND THEN HE AND I-- WE WOULD DRIVE AROUND OR FLY AROUND AND DO THEM, AND WE SPENT A GREAT DEAL OF TIME IN MY ASSOCIATION WITH HIM EXPLORING ARIZONA, BECAUSE HE WAS FAIRLY NEW TO THE STATE TOO, HADN’T SEEN IT. BUT BY THE TIME THAT HE DIED, HE HAD SEEN EVERY SINGLE SPOT IN THIS WONDERFUL STATE. INCLUDING WE WERE AT CARSON CAVERN BEFORE IT OPENED, AND WE HAD TO CRAWL THROUGH ON OUR HANDS AND KNEES THROUGH THE DARK TUNNELS TO GET THROUGH—AND YOU KNOW-- HE WAS BUSTED UP FROM HIS TIME IN VIETNAM.

TED: YEAH.

WES GULLETT: SO IT WAS A LITTLE CHALLENGING FOR HIM, BUT NOTHING EVER STOPPED HIM. HE WAS LIKE A MOUNTAIN GOAT. HE WOULD CLIMB THE HIGHEST HILL AND HE WOULD-- AND WE CALLED THEM FORCES MARCHES, SO THE KIDS WERE LITTLE, RIGHT?

TED: UH-HUH.

WES GULLETT: MY KIDS WERE LITTLE AND HIS KIDS WERE LITTLE AND THEY WOULD BE LIKE OH NOT ANOTHER FORCED MARCH. YES, ANOTHER FORCED MARCH, WE’RE GOING ON A FORCED MARCH. AND WE WOULD SEE SOME INCREDIBLE PLACES.

TED: THE JOHN McCAIN THAT YOU KNEW, YOU WORKED WITH, YOU DEALT WITH BEHIND THE SCENES, ANY DIFFERENT AT ALL FROM THE ONE THAT EVERYONE SAW IN FRONT OF THE CAMERAS, IN THE PUBLIC SPOTLIGHT?

WES GULLETT: WELL, HE WAS MORE FUN. BUT HE WAS FUN IN FRONT OF THE SPOTLIGHT TOO. HE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST GUYS TO GO ON THE NATIONAL NIGHT TALK SHOWS AND SPAR WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, BUT HE WAS REALLY FUN, AND SOME OF THE MOST -- THE BEST TIMES WERE WHEN HE WAS COOKING, AND HE WOULD COOK THESE RIBS AND THIS CHICKEN, AND THE RIBS WERE UNIQUE. THEY WERE McCAIN RIBS. THEY WERE VERY CHEWY, BUT THEY WERE DELICIOUS. [ LAUGHTER ]

TED: OKAY.

WES GULLETT: AND HIS KIDS, AND EVERYBODY, THE HARPERS, THEY WOULD ALWAYS SAY OH, THE RIBS WERE SO GOOD. HEY, SOMETIMES, THEY WERE A LITTLE OVERDONE.

TED: DID YOU EVER TELL HIM THEY WERE OVERDONE?

WES GULLETT: OH, YEAH, GOT A LITTLE CHARCOAL ON THOSE RIBS. [ LAUGHTER ]

TED: OKAY. OBVIOUSLY A BIG LOSS IN TERMS OF POLITICS FOR THE COUNTRY. A BIG LOSS FOR ARIZONA AS WELL. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ARIZONA POLITICS?

WES GULLETT: WELL, THIS IS GOING TO BE THE FIRST TIME SINCE STATEHOOD THAT WE HAVE HAD TWO FRESHMAN SENATORS. AND ARIZONA HAS ALWAYS HAD SENIORITY IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE FROM THE TIME THAT CARL HAYDEN WENT FROM BEING SHERIFF TO THE UNITED STATES SENATE TO APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN . FOR 40 YEARS HE WAS IN THE SENATE. SO WE HAVE ALWAYS HAD STABILITY AND SENIORITY IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE, SO IT'S GOING TO BE A REALLY CHALLENGING TIME. AS A MATTER OF FACT WHEN WE WON IN '86 WE TOOK OVER BARRY GOLDWATER'S SEAT, AND BARRY GOLDWATER HAD TAKEN IT OVER BASICALLY FROM ERNEST McFARLAND IN 1952, AND McFARLAND WAS A MAJORITY LEADER OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE. SO IT’S NOT LIKE YOU GET TO BE A MAJORITY LEADER BECAUSE YOU JUST ARRIVED AND YOU’RE REALLY SMART. SO THERE WERE -- THERE HAVE BEEN -- NOT MANY PEOPLE HAVE SAT IN THAT SEAT, IN OTHER WORDS IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE FROM ARIZONA, SO IT IS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT, AND IT'S GOING TO BE -- I DON'T THINK PEOPLE HAVE ANY IMAGINATION ABOUT HOW -- THE RESPECT THAT WE HAVE AS A STATE IS GOING TO BE CHANGED IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE, AND GETTING THINGS DONE. KEEPING THE A-10 AT DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, PROTECTING THE YUMA PROVING GROUND, IF F35 LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, THOSE WERE ALL BECAUSE JOHN McCAIN KNEW THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MISSION, AND COULD KEEP THEM THERE AND COULD GO TO THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT AND ARGUE WITH THE GENERALS AND SAY THIS IS AN IMPORTANT MISSION TO KEEP IN ARIZONA. SO THOSE THINGS MATTERED. THEY REALLY DID. AND HIS KNOWLEDGE OF THOSE MADE A HUGE DIFFERENCE, AND WHEN WE WOULD DOWN TO SEE THE PEOPLE AT DAVIS-MONTHAN FOR EXAMPLE, HE WAS REVERED, BECAUSE THEY KNEW HE KNEW THE MISSION, AND THAT’S GOING TO BE DIFFERENT FROM NOW ON.

TED: YEAH, AND AGAIN, WE HAVE TALKED A LOT ABOUT IN THE PAST FEW DAYS ABOUT HOW HE WAS AMERICA'S SENATOR, PERHAPS EVEN MORE THAN ARIZONA’S SENATOR. BUT IN TERMS OF NATIONAL POLITICS WHO TAKES HIS PLACE? WHO BECOMES THAT VOICE? AND WE'LL STICK WITH THE REPUBLICAN PARTY FOR NOW.

WES GULLETT: YEAH, AND IT'S HARD BECAUSE THE REPUBLICANS ARE YOUNGER. THERE ARE NOT AS MANY SENIOR PEOPLE IN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY. THE ONES THAT ARE THERE, LIKE THAD COCHRAN HAS BEEN THERE A REALLY LONG TIME AND HE’S GOT HIS NICHE, BUT I THINK YOU’RE GOING TO SEE SOME OF THESE YOUNG PEOPLE THAT JOHN McCAIN MENTORED LIKE TOM COTTON AND ERNST FROM IOWA MOVE UP AND TAKE SOME OF THAT, AND FIND A RESPONSIBILITY TO DO THAT BECAUSE JOHN IS NOT THERE. BUT IT'S HARD TO -- BECAUSE THIS IS A GUY THAT HE DIDN'T MIND GOING INTO THE CAUCUS AND FIGHTING IT OUT. AND THEY WEREN'T ALWAYS HAPPY TO SEE HIM ROLL IN THERE. HE WOULD GO INTO THOSE CONFERENCE MEETINGS AND THEY WERE NOT ALWAYS HAPPY TO SEE HIM.

TED: THAT'S WHAT I'M WONDERING.

WES GULLETT: BUT THEY LOVED HIM.

TED: WHO IS GOING TO BE THAT GUY?

WES GULLETT: WELL, YOU KNOW, THERE IS ALWAYS SOMEBODY AND WHEN BARRY GOLDWATER LEFT, HE’D BEEN THAT THAT GUY. AND JOHN TOOK OVER FOR HIM. SO WHOEVER REPLACES JOHN McCAIN-- AND WE'LL HAVE A BIG ELECTION IN A COUPLE OF YEARS. THAT'S GOING TO BE A BIG PART OF THAT RESPONSIBILITY.

TED: ALL RIGHT. WES GULLETT: LONGTIME FRIEND, ASSOCIATE OF SENATOR McCAIN – WORKED ON A COUPLE OF HIS CAMPAIGNS—WEARING A McCAIN LITTLE PIN LIKE THAT.

WES GULLETT: YEAH, WE FOUND THAT IN THE TREASURE BOX. I THINK IT’S A LITTLE YELLOWED SO MAYBE IT’S FROM 2000.

TED: IT'S GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

WES GULLETT: IT'S GOOD TO BE HERE TED. THANK YOU.

TED: UP NEXT ON ARIZONA HORIZON, WE'LL LOOK AT A NEW TRADE AGREEMENT ANNOUNCED TODAY BETWEEN THE U.S. AND MEXICO.

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
airs May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: