EXCLUSIVE: An Interview with Jack McCain

With Jack McCain supporting his dad at the Republican National Convention this week, we decided to re-run this story. Last February, David Ausiello spoke with McCain and the story has been viewed by over 200,000 people to date. Time Magazine, the New York Daily News, and the Drudge Report are three of the nearly 100 media outlets who have used portions of the article in their publications.

Jack McCain may be on the sidelines during most of his dad's quest for the presidency, but he is by no means sitting this race out. In an exclusive interview with GoMids.com, Midshipman McCain spoke about his relationship with his dad, his surprising connection to Chelsea Clinton, his love of Navy football and even who he thinks would make a great vice presidential running mate.

Midshipman John "Jack" McCain's naval career got off to an uncomfortable start, and for that he blames his father and the current presumptive Republican nominee for president.

Although McCain's high school grades were good enough to be directly admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy, he chose instead to go to the Naval Academy's Prep School (NAPS) located in Newport, Rhode Island for what he calls some "mathematical reinforcement." His SAT scores were partially to blame. Even though he achieved a perfect 800 on the verbal portion of the exam, he only scored 510 on the math part. So he headed to Newport for a year of academic fine tuning; and waiting for him was a not so pleasant welcome from the students who would be indoctrinating him into the naval service.

"There had been musings that I was coming to NAPS. The prior enlisted had been there a few days before and evidently they heard Senator McCain was coming to drop off his son so they had to clean a little more – which made my reception less than warm," recalls the 21-year-old McCain.

McCain admits that it took him "about five minutes" to realize that he had just made the biggest mistake of his life.

"[NAPS] was tough for me. I did not do well in the beginning because there was a double period of math everyday, physics everyday, and chemistry four out of five days."

Jack managed to pull his grades together at the prep school and as a result he was off to the Naval Academy in July 2005 – almost 51 years to the day after his father started a similar journey.

The first day at the Naval Academy for plebes is referred to as Induction Day or I-Day, and it is a tradition that before the newest members of the U.S. Navy officially begin their intense, six-week summer training, they are allowed 20 minutes to say good-bye to their families.

The younger McCain fondly remembers the conversation he had at that moment with his dad.

"It turned out we felt the same exact way on I-Day. Everybody has second thoughts on that day. We both knew that it was going to be a long road. I don't want to say that (my dad) got choked up because I don't think he's a person I've ever seen get choked up, but he was reflective and he had strong things to say."

The strong words Jack McCain heard from his dad on that day were the same ones his grandfather said to his father over 50 years ago on his Induction Day.

Jack McCain stands in front of photos honoring his dad in Bancroft Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy. Photo taken by GoMids.com.
"My dad told me there is one thing McCain's are good at and that is not giving into pressure, and honor – keeping our honor regardless of what happens," said Jack McCain. "He then said, ‘Don't lie, cheat or steal – anything else is fair game.'"

Jack's dad didn't have to expound on what he meant by "anything else" because his legacy at the Naval Academy is well-documented in and outside the confines of the McCain household. As a matter of fact, during speeches, Senator McCain makes light of his ability to rack up demerits at the Academy.

For example, at a town hall meeting this past summer in New Hampshire, he was quoted by a local newspaper as saying, "You know, my son Jack attends the Naval Academy, where he has zero demerits. I got so concerned; I had DNA tests run just to make sure he was my son."

Well, Senator McCain can stop worrying about his son not living up to his legacy – Jack's gotten himself into trouble, or has gotten "fried" as midshipmen call it, while at the Academy.

"The [chain of command seems to] know I have been doing something so they hammer me whenever they can," says a spirited Jack McCain. "I have been fried for wearing flip-flops outside. I got 60 demerits and was restricted to the Academy for that. I also received several demerits last year when I forgot to shave."

"So far, that's it," McCain says as he glances around Dahlgren Hall during our interview. "That's what I have gotten caught for."

But does the younger McCain feel comfortable telling his dad about his infractions?

"With his legacy, either academics or conduct, he doesn't really have the room to criticize," jokes Jack.

And while Jack McCain may be trailing significantly behind his dad when it comes to demerits, he is doing better in the classroom…if only marginally. Currently, Jack stands 1,002nd out of about 1,100 midshipmen in his class, making him part of the "century club" as he calls it. However, last semester the political science major achieved a 3.0 GPA, a level his dad, who finished 894th out of 899 students, could probably only dream about.

"My dad and I laugh about the irony, but he knows I'm working hard. There are some serious achievers at this school."

Jack McCain still loves hearing the stories about his dad's days at the Academy – especially the ones told by his father's classmates, and even his dad's mother.

Jack, with considerably less hair, poses for a photo with his mom, Cindy. Photo courtesy of McCain family.
According to Jack, his grandmother told him that his dad "got hit in the face with a racquetball and they admitted him to the hospital for a month so he couldn't get anymore demerits – so he would graduate." He couldn't remember for sure, but he thinks his dad "officially denies that story."

Jack summarizes the stories he hears about his dad's troubled days in Annapolis, saying that they show "his passive resistance of the administration" – a characteristic that has not skipped a generation. However, McCain does not blame his dad for his own quiet questioning of authority – he attributes that to his older sister, Meghan, 23.

"Meghan was the more tyrannical of the children – she always kept my younger brother Jimmy and me in line. Until we got big enough to fight back, she was always in charge. Looking back on it, it probably gave me a pretty good sense of how to fight back against the establishment in the small ways that I could."

And while Meghan was keeping Jack and Jimmy, 19, in line, the two brothers became best of friends. Jimmy or "Shorty" as Jack calls him, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2006 and has just returned from his first deployment to Iraq.

Jack said one of the first topics he will be talking to his Marine brother about when they see each other in the coming weeks is about Jim coming to the Academy.

"I know he wants a college education. I think he has seen the value of it. My dad and I are going to talk to him about it. Whether or not he will do it – I don't know. I don't want to push him either way. It's his decision."

If Jimmy does follow Jack to the Naval Academy, it's entirely possible that the older brother could be in a position to train his sibling, or perhaps even yell at him if he messes up as a plebe. What would Jack do if that situation presented itself?

"I don't think I could say anything to him. He's a combat Marine. He was the point man for his platoon in Iraq," said Jack. "There are Purple Heart and Bronze Star winners here [at the Academy]. It brings to bear the real value of this place. It will draw people in who have already given their service."

"And who am I? I'm Midshipman whoever. The midshipmen who have actually been out there and have the experience – they are the important ones here," continued McCain.

"There's always going to be an [upper-class midshipmen] who is going to crack down on the Purple Heart winner because this is his school…his Naval Academy. I'll leave that job to them."

One job Jack McCain would like to be more involved in is his father's campaign; however, his academic advisor isn't so sure that is a great idea right now.

Sen. and Mrs. McCain with their son Jack (dark uniform) and a Naval Academy Prep School aide walk to graduation ceremonies in Newport, Rhode Island in 2005. Photo courtesy of Ronald R. Fontaine, U.S. Navy photos.
"I was supposed to go to Phoenix for Super Tuesday, but my academic advisor was like, ‘You can go, but you will miss class and you shouldn't miss class.' It wasn't that he was saying, ‘Don't go' but more like ‘Think about it.' So I stayed…and it was a smart decision even though I would have liked to have been in Phoenix."

There are certain rules regarding campaigning that the younger McCain must follow because he is in the military. One of them is he is not allowed to campaign in his uniform. So during his Christmas break, he broke out his civilian attire or "civvies" and joined his dad in South Carolina and Florida.

"I enjoy [campaigning] very much. But [my dad] keeps a schedule – I mean I'm 21 and go to the Naval Academy and he outruns me with no problem," said Jack.

When asked about his dad's age, 71, and whether or not it should be an issue with voters, Jack was quick to point out the tremendous health of not his dad, but his grandmother.

"His mother is what, 96? She is very sharp. She travels the world. So as far as genes go, you don't have to worry about that for at least another 15 or 20 years."

In further defense of his dad's health, Jack enjoys telling the story about how he and his dad hiked the Grand Canyon last summer.

"He hiked 30 miles…9 down, 15 across and 6 up in two days. We started out on the North Rim [of the Grand Canyon] and made it to the South Rim. If age is ever an issue [just think of] 30 miles, two days, in 115 degree heat…and carrying a back-pack as well. And my dad doesn't have any cartilage in his knees."

One of the most memorable parts of the excursion, especially for a political science major, was being able to listen to his dad talk about "any period in history."

"…If you start in China and head all the way to the United States, he knows about it. We probably had a four-hour conversation about the Ottoman Turks."

And while politics did not come up a lot on that trip, it is a very hot topic when Jack talks to his dad now. He admits that it is difficult to get in touch with his father at times, but he does have an ace in the hole to help him pass along his ideas or feedback.

"I go through my mom. It's harder to get a hold of my dad, but if I get a hold of my mom, she is usually standing right there. I haven't had a career in politics, but I figured any good idea sent up is one good idea extra."

Jack said his mom keeps him "really informed as to what is going on," and he really enjoys the 5-10 minute conversations he has with his dad.

"Every conversation [with my dad] there is always a little joking. [He asks me] why I am not studying or shining my shoes or something."

So how does Jack manage to study in the midst of the campaign, and specifically on nights like Super Tuesday?

"You can't. It's impossible to study on that night. I'm on realclearpolitics.com at least ten times a day. As long as it's not a primary night, I'm o.k. On Super Tuesday, I was in my room watching from 8 o'clock until three in the morning. Not a lot of sleep that night." Jack admits that while it is still a little strange seeing his dad on television every night, it helps him keep in touch. The media attention on the campaign also keeps fueling questions from his fellow midshipmen.

"I've been asked a thousand times if we can have a kegger at the White House," jokes McCain, who then sarcastically says to himself, "I'll work on that guys." According to Jack, the Naval Academy has helped keep him "grounded" and not "fixated" on the possibility of his dad becoming the next president. With his current academic load that includes Spanish II, Electrical Engineering II, Middle-Eastern Politics, and Social Psychology, Jack knows he's "got enough to worry about."

Sen. McCain and Jack pose for a photo at the Grand Canyon in the summer of 2007. Photo courtesy of McCain family.
One thing Jack isn't concerned about is finding a date for the ring dance – the biggest social event of a midshipmen's career that takes place in May. And while the 21-year-old is currently dating a local college student, it hasn't stopped the plebes in his company at the Academy from having some fun with him.

"One of the traditions is that plebes decorate bulletin boards in our passageways, and there is one for the ring dance. They put your picture on it next to who they think would be the most hilarious person to go with as a date. So my picture is next to Chelsea Clinton," said McCain.

"The board is permanent, and I can't change it," he lamented.

Although Jack would probably like to alter the bulletin board and some of the added attention it brings to him, nothing is better than having his dad visit him at the Academy, regardless of the commotion it causes.

"I especially like when my dad comes to meals. I love seeing my father because I don't get to see him as much as I would hope. One time he came to dinner and as we were walking out, everybody wanted to shake his hand."

But whose hands did the Senator make a significant point to reach out for that night?

"He wanted to shake every football player's hand. Not only does he love Navy football, but he knows how hard they work. He is a huge fan of the football team. [He even] pulled [injured linebacker] Clint Sovie aside and spoke to him for a little bit. Clint was pretty surprised that he did that," said Jack.

The younger McCain even thinks that his dad's passion for Navy football could influence his choice for a vice presidential running mate if he becomes the Republican nominee.

"[Former Navy Coach] Paul Johnson would definitely help him win Georgia – and he is a proven winner. His triple option offense against either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton would be tough to stop - especially with someone like (his classmate) Eric Kettani – a snappy dresser – at fullback."

All kidding aside, Jack McCain does have a good idea who would make a good running mate if (he always said ‘if') his dad wins the nomination – and he was not shy about passing his idea up the chain of command.

"And it was very well received," laughs McCain.

In addition to being asked quite frequently about who his dad may choose as a running mate, there is a lot of speculation amongst midshipmen regarding what type of protection Jack would be required to have if his dad becomes president. And when it comes to that topic, McCain is not shy about his opinion.

"If there is an option to decline Secret Service, I will. It's almost a pretentious thing to have a bunch of security guards around you."

But surely, Jack must see the benefit of his dad having such protection now, right?

"No, actually I don't. He's been shot out of a plane. He's been shot at. He's been stabbed and beaten. I don't think he's worried about anything as a nominee. If he gets elected, that's different. But he has enough faith in the public that he is not worried about somebody trying to kill him."

Another topic Jack is not shy about discussing is the more popular criticisms brought up about his dad – including his label as a ‘maverick' and a man with a temper.

"I think he is less [of a] maverick and more principled. He's not going to pander and he's not going to give in because it's politically intelligent or just because it's popular to go that way. Granted he is an elected official, and he is the voice of the people, but when it comes down to what he believes is best for the country, he does what he feels is right," said McCain.

Midshipman Jack McCain (left) gives his younger brother Jimmy (right) a lift prior to his deployment to Iraq. Photo courtesy of McCain family.
Jack calls his dad's best qualities his "tenacity and courage" and he believes if anyone would know about his dad's temperament, it would be his son – who by his own admission likes to "fight back against the establishment."

"Growing up, if I screwed up, I'd know it. He was never cruel about anything. He never got overly angry. He was always level-headed. It cracks me up when I hear about this [alleged] crazy temper because I've lived with him for almost 22 years and I've never seen it."

When asked about the much publicized exchange his dad had with Senator John Cornyn (who recently endorsed Sen. McCain for president), the informed son was quick to respond about his father using a four-letter expletive just off the Senate floor.

"He probably deserved it. The guy did insult him… [He said] that [my dad] can't just parachute in here from his campaign and tell us what to do. That was a pretty personal quip, so he fired back. Between that and his humor – [my dad] isn't a bland politician. He's candid."

So too is Jack McCain. When asked if he would bring some classmates to the White House to celebrate a Navy football victory in the fall if his dad is president, Midshipman McCain made sure this reporter knew of the new policy in place by the current Naval Academy administration.

"Well, we don't get weekend [liberty] after football games anymore."

Like father, like son.

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