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tv   2020  ABC  September 1, 2018 10:00pm-11:00pm PDT

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political battles. >> we are getting nothing done. >> tonight, the senator who stood his ground and voted his heart sometimes against his very own party. >> it was a dramatic vote. the last maverick move. >> tonight, honoring the hero who never wanted to be called one. >> steadfastly reject that label. >> remembers a maverick, john mccain. good evening. i'm david muir. >> and i'm amy for over a year, john mccain battled canners. >> tonight, he was driven by his own convictions and the love he had for his family. >> near the end, john mccain retreated to a place he had grown to love. his home near sedona, arizona. >> he loves nature.
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he likes getting back to it, and the streams that run through his little spread. >> it's very evident, the emotion that he feels for this particular bend in the river, which is where his home is. >> yeah, yeah, i do some, yeah. >> in raw footage of a 1999 abc interview with sam donaldson in window rock, we came across this unguarded moment, between takes, senator mccain pointing out the natural beauty around them. >> wildflowers, aren't they pretty? >> you got 19 inches of rain. >> you see the purple ones? the older you get, t me appreciate wildflowers and beauty. >> is that true? >> absolutely. >> senator mccain spent nearly all of his long legendary life serving his country. three decades in the united states senate. a quarter century in the navy. >> a u.s. navy pilot with a rather prominent name was shot
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down during a raid against north vietnam. >> while flying bombing missions over north vietnam, he was shot down, captured and tortured. surviving nearly six years as a prisoner of war. but he always denied being a hero. >> i steadfastly reject that label. heroes of my life are those whose names are engraved on the wall down at the vietnam war memorial on the mall. >> he was reluctant when people said, you're a war hero. john mccain, by being shot down by a soviet missile over hanoi, did not consider that he had performed a heroic act. >> he was an avid reader and prolific writer. author of seven books with mark salter. >> he would tell you, the life he chose to live is the most rewarding life a human being could live. >> sam donaldson asking mccain about his first book, "faith of our fathers."
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>> i believe the overall message is the redemptive powers of a commitment to a cause greater than one's self-interest, even if that commitment is made by imperfect people. >> he is wickedly funny. >> come on, obama's going to have plenty of chances to be president. it's my turn. >> he does not take himself too seriously. but he takes his cause incredibly seriously. >> there's literally no difference between the public john mccain and the private john mccain. what you see is what you get. >> i'm afraid mr. putin might be one of those that wants to make the trains run on time. >> that's one of the great aspects of his political life, was that he walked the walk. he was the guy you could rely on to always tell you what he believed. >> i think we have to examine every agency of government and find out those that are doing their job and keep them and find out those that aren't and
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eliminate them. >> he was plain spoken to a fault. breathtakingly blunt. he was a devout maverick. an original american. >> john mccain the maverick, john mccain loved to go in his own direction. unafraid to say things that were unpopular with whoever he was talking to. and that included the leadership of his own party. >> we're here to vote. we're not here to block things. >> john mccain loved a fight. john mccain, in some ways, loved a fight with members of his own party more than anything. >> i say to my friend from utah, you're not going to win every fight here. you're not going to win every battle here. >> it should not be surprising that the final political battle of the senator's life was against the leader of his own party, president trump. it began after mccain criticized then-candidate trump. trump firing back in an attack that stunned so many. >> but let me get to it.
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he hit me -- >> he's a war hero. >> he's a war hero -- he's a war hero because he was captured. i like people that weren't captured, okay? >> couldn't believe it. just couldn't believe it. how do you do that? how do you belittle the service of somebody who has given so much? >> it was so deeply offensive. not just on a personal level to mccain, but to all those americans who had been captured. that had been p.o.w.s. coming from somebody who avoided the draft. i mean, it was a deeply offensive thing. >> i remember calling him, and he said, calm down. doesn't make me look bad. it makes him look bad. he's a fool.
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and he's acting like a fool. couldn't have cared less. >> this is part of what characterizes john mccain. the worst insult to this man was not even close to what was done to him in vietnam. >> the character of the man shining through his, his friends say, right up until the end. in his last significant vote and final speech in the place he considered hallowed ground, the floor of the senate. >> came back after having surgery, literally after having brain surgery. >> mandating legislation from the top down without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires, we're getting nothing done, my friends. we're getting nothing done. >> and gave an impassioned speech about the need for the parties to come together, to come to a solution to replace obamacare. >> let's return to regular order. we've been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from
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across the aisle. >> and then, three days later, with a single defiant gesture, striking down what he saw as misguided legislation, an attempt to repeal but not replace obamacare. >> the down pointing of his thumb, he sank the effort to, with one blow, eliminate the affordable care act. >> it with us a dramatic vote. it was mccain, his last big maverick independent move. and he tanked the top legislative priority for his party. >> now, you say, well, was that -- was that a revenge against donald trump? well, i don't know. >> president trump never forgave john mccain for that vote. even as mccain was dying in arizona, trump would bring it up at rallies. >> 3:00 in the morning, thumb's down. thumb's down. thumb's down. >> some would say john mccain's whole life led him to that moment, a life that was a profile in courage. still ahead, more on the early years, the vietnam war. a man with a code.
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stay with us.
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it was the vietnam war and mccain was in the thick of it. >> and the protests at home, along with the protests for civil rights by african-americans, were the two great points in the '60s in which america became divided. we were just fat, dumb and happy, as the saying goes, until vietnam. and it's never been the same since. >> as mccain and other pilots prepared to take off on a bombing mission, a missile on one of the jets accidentally fires, igniting an inferno. digging deep into the dusty archives of abc news, we found old film shot in the aftermath of the tragic fire. incredibly, including this interview with lieutenant commander mccain. >> so i walked out on the
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refueling probe, which is the probe which sticks out in front of the aircraft, and jumped off the end of the refueling probe and into the fire and rolled clear. >> you can see the fire ball, he rolls away from the cockpit, enveloped in flame. it's a true story, i'm telling you. and he escaped. without any serious injury, that time. >> he had cheated death. but more than 130 of his shipmates were not so lucky. >> the deck of the aircraft carrier was literally melted. >> the fire burned so hot bombs from the aircraft began exploding. >> first bomb exploded and this knocked me about ten feet and everyone who had been near me were all either badly maimed or
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killed from this explosion. >> a lot of men died right around you. how in the world do you suppose you came out of this alive? >> i have no idea. i've been wondering that ever since it happened. i don't know how it would be possible. >> both his father and grandfather were admirals in the navy. so, his life was pretty much laid out for him from the day he was born. >> john mccain was born august 29th, 1936, in the panama canal zone. born not just into a military family, but a naval dynasty. >> his grandfather was there on the deck of the missouri, standing in a position of honor when douglas macarthur accepted the surrender of the japanese. >> it was expected that he would be in the navy for his career. he would become an admiral. >> that's a tough burden to bear for a young man and as a young
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man, he kind of rebelled against the idea that his future was already set for him. he sort of fought against it. >> i was immature and a bit resentful that my path had been charted for me, either intentionally or unintentionally, by my parents. ♪ >> in spite of his family history, the young mccain was not a star pupil at the academy. far from it. >> as he would always remind you, he wasn't quite last in his class, but he was really close to last in his class. >> diane sawyer interviewing john mccain for "20/20." >> what does 894 mean for you in. >> fifth of the bottom of any
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class many the naval academy. if i had stood at the bottom, president eisenhower, who spoke at my graduate, then would have shaken my hand personally. >> still, the young midshipman was a natural leader. and he was comfortable away from his duties, too. >> he loved women. he always went out with a lot of women. he always had a woman on his arm. even the famous stripper, the flame of florida. >> is it -- maria, maria the flame of miami? >> flame of florida. >> unlike his father and grandfather, admirals who captained ships, mccain was destined to do something else. to fly higher than the high
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seas. >> i always had the ambition of being a pilot. i wanted to be a navy pilot. >> by 1965, the naval aviator had settled down and decided to marry a divorced mother of two boys. >> the first thing john mccain did was adopt those two sons. so, he was very committed family man. and then shortly thereafter they s ery l.ed to t child, sydney, vietnam and keep faith with the family creed. that was the reason? >> our job was, in time of war,
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to go to where the sound of the guns. and i wanted to do that, i'd been training for some years to fly in combat. i certainly knew that i was going into harm's way, but i also thought it was my job to do it. there's also a certain amount of excitement associated. and the one thing about a lot of young pilots, they don't think they're ever going to get hurt. >> three months after the fire, he flew off in his skyhawk bomber on a mission for which he would not return for more than five years. he would crash and be captured behind enemy lines. >> he was tortured. he was beaten. he was abused. it was five-plus years of hell. when we come back, john mccain in captivity. the horror and his heroism.
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this special edition of "20/20" continues. here now, amy robach. >> october 26th, 1967. 31-year-old john mccain is flying the navy's a-force skyhawk. top speed, 670 miles an hour. >> he was on a bomb run.
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he had a target that he had been assigned. the anti-aircraft fire was very >> the mission? to knock out a power plant in the capital city of hanoi. but the north vietnamese have targets, too. >> surface to air missile hit my airplane and hit the right wing, took it off and i went into a very violent spiral downward. >> mccain ejects, breaking both arms and a knee in the process. he descends into the waiting arms of the enemy. >> i came down in a lake near the center of the city of hanoi. as i came to the surface, the vietnamese, a group of them came out and pulled me in. >> he was met by an angry mob of civilian vietnamese who resented the fact that he was trying to drop bombs on their city, as anyone would, and they beat him up and they punched him and kicked him and they were
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treating him extremely badly. >> then they threw me in the back of the truck and took me into a prison that we know of as the hanoi hilton. >> you walk in these iron doors, it says central house. there's a courtyard and there are corridors with cells. >> they called a doctor in and the doctor took my pulse and shook his head. and the interrogator in english said, it's too late. then i thought perhaps i was going to die. >> but once again, the legendary family name is about to shape john mccain's future. >> in a funny way, your father saved you. >> he did. my father saved my life, because some hours after that, the door of the cell burst open and the interrogator came in and said, your father is a big admiral and we're going to take you to the hospital. so, they had found out from our wire services. >> it is, however, a double-edged sword. the north vietnamese now have a bargaining chip.
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>> at that point, they invited a french film crew in to film him to sort of use show that they had captured this famous american and that they were treat >> how old are you? >> 31. >> tough watching that? i don't enjoy watching that. >> you're in obvious great pain there. >> yeah. it's a very unpleasant memory. >> are you married? >> yes. >> children? >> three. in the background, the interrogator is saying, tell them you want the war to stop, and that's why you hear me say, that's all i have to say. and then the interrogator then said, tell him that it's an evil war and you want the war to stop, and the frenchman turned and said, i think he's said
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enough. >> eight months after his capture, the viet cong make a self-serving offer to send mccain home. it is one the navy captain cannot accept. >> what bothered me most about it was that i knew if i had accepted the release, then they would go to other prisoners and say, see, your country doesn't care about you, they only care about the admiral's son. and i knew that's what they were going to do and i couldn't do that. >> the decision comes with severe consequences. >> they moved him into solitary confinement where he stayed for two years. if you know john mccain at all, you know the one thing he loves is to be around people. this was possibly the worst punishment they could have ever
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done to him. >> the beatings are constant. mccain's escape, the sounds of tapping. coded messages from other prisoners. >> they developed a tap code. they tapped on the pipes in their cell. and they did the alphabet. a was one, b was two. >> i'll never forget the tapping to each other and the leadership and inspiration that i got from those people who were far better and stronger than i am. >> but the brutality of the north vietnamese is unrelenting. >> they would hang him from his arms, yank his arms out of their sockets. they would beat him with sticks. they would engage in mental torture, as well. >> he doesn't wave like this, he waves like this, and that's because he can't lift his arms over his shoulders. >> four days of intense beatings result in mccain reading a scripted confession. he can tormented by his perceived failure to uphold the military's honor code.
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>> i saw people and i know people that underwent far more severe brutality than i experienced, and they didn't crack. and they were my role models. i did not live up to the standards that i hoped to live up to. >> i don't know if he ever forgave himself. all the other prisoners did, everyone else pretty much did. but i'm not sure he ever forgave himself. >> and while a son suffers in prison, a father suffers in silence. >> he never asked for any special favors for his son. ever. but every year at christmas, he would go to the demilitarized zone, which was the strip of land between south and north vietnam and he would just stare into that country that was holding his son. he never talked about it. he never said what he was thinking. but he did it every year for five years. >> when he is released from solitary, john mccain's other heroes are waiting for him. >> the other prisoners in the camp nursed him back to health. they helped him, they cleaned his wounds, they spoon fed him
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because he couldn't left his arms. and they nursed him back to relative health. >> they said, get up, go back into the fight, you're not defeated, go back into the fight. >> and so many years later, another powerful message delivered by a fellow p.o.w. in that familiar tapping code. >> he's going to do it -- gbu, which means god bless you, which -- which is the, obviously the tap code that we used and we'd always sign off with that, when we would finish our messages to each other. when we return, mr. mccain goes to washington as the navy captain turned congressman.
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in march of 1973, 591 p.o.w.s are released.
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one of them is john mccain. >> commander john mccain. >> reunited with his family, mccain comes home to a silver star, a bronze star and a purple heart. he is decorated, but dejected about breaking under torture. >> was talking to your father about that moment the hardest conversation you ever had? and what did he say to you in the end? >> he -- you know, he -- like any father, he said, son, i know you did the best that you could. >> who is your father? >> his name is admiral john mccain. but that certainly was one of the lowest points of my life, to say the least. >> are you married? >> yes. >> you are. you have children? >> three. >> three. >> his time in captivity forces mccain to re-examine his life. on the day his admiral father was buried with full military
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honors, the son leaves the navy for good, attaining the rank of captain. there are professional and personal challenges ahead, as his first marriage to wife carol crumbles. >> your first wife has said of you that the marriage ended, ultimately, because she felt that you were 40 and wanted to be 25 again. fair? >> anything is fair. i take full responsibility for the failure of my first marriage. >> is there a lesson to be learned? >> i -- i have been an imperfect person in many respects. >> on a trip to hawaii in 1979, john mccain meets the woman he will spend the rest of his life with. >> fell almost immediately in love. it was a tough situation, because he also loved carol. and carol had stood by him all
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the years that he was in prison. >> he is 42 years old, she is 25. each play fast and loose with those numbers. he claims to be younger, she, older. >> we lied to each other about our ages and found out when we got our marriage license. age didn't matter to either one of us. >> he was, at that point, separated. he got divorced and married cindy. >> the couple marries in may of 1980 and their union will change the course of john mccain's life. former defense secretary william cohen was his best man. >> i considered it a real honor
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to stand beside a man who fought for his country, survived incredible torture for his country. >> but mccain's churn do not attend, and it takes years for all to reconcile. eventually, he and cindy have a blended family that includes mccain's three children, the couple's three biological children, and a fourth, whom they adopt. just one year into their marriage, john mccain is ready to make his move into politics. it begins in cindy's home state of arizona. nd i asked him, well, what district did you have in a mind >>and he said he didn't have a clue, but he would figure it out when he got out there. >> mccain may have not had all the answers, but he has cindy, who offers emotional and financial support. he father founded the third-largest anheuser-busch distributorship in the u.s. and most of the reported $100 million family fortune is left to cindy. then, in 1982, on the very day a tempe, arizona, congressman announces his retirement, the mccains seize the opportunity. within hours, cindy buys a home in that district.
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>> he walked door to door in his first congressional race, 15,000 doors, and when he got done, that's what his shoes looked like. so, i bronzed them and gave them to him on election night. this is where it all began. >> john mccain! john mccain! >> in 1987, mccain shifts from congressman to senator. >> and i want to publicly thank senator mccain. >> and gains national visibility. >> the honorable senator from arizona. john s. mccain. >> and delivers a rousing speak at the 1988 national convention. >> this november, we must not forget. we must not retreat. >> but then, his career crashes down in flames. his character is called into question after his name surfaces in the keating five banking scandal. >> as i understand it, you had a personal relationship with mr. keating. you were a friend of his? >> yes. >> it was a question not only of what he did, but who he did it
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for. >> charles keating is a wealthy contributor and friend of the mccains. they would fly nine times on the keating's private plane. but when banking regulators start looking into keating's failing savings and loan, he asked mccain and four other senators to get them to back off. in the end, keating goes to prison, while a senate ethics committee eventually clears mccain, saying he only exercised poor judgment. the war hero senator takes a beating in the press. >> i think the whole thing was a regrettable situation. >> and he says that that was the lowest point in his career. it was a dishonorable thing. and to him, honor is probably more important than almost any other attribute that he might bring to that office. >> i suspect his own party let
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him down. i think they left him on his own, threw him a bit to the wolves. i think it was a searing experience for him. next, mccain looks to turn his anger into action in washington. >> i seek the respect of my colleagues. i don't particularly seek their affection. >> and the unpredictable politician makes the ultimate maverick move in choosing his presidential running mate. when we return.
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the senior senator from arizona labors for more than 30 years in what has been called the world's greatest deliberative body, the united states senate. there, he did not exhibit flights of soaring oratory nor a flare for the alchemy of legislation.
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but better than so many others, john mccain was practiced in the lost magic of leadership. >> mccain was in many ways the champion of lost causes. >> mccain, a republican, was known for reaching across the aisle, working with democrats. his biggest accomplishments were bipartisan achievements. >> he had no problem crossing the aisle. bipartisan ship was not a bad word in those days. >> during the clinton administration, mccain and another veteran, democratic senator john kerry, together, pushed for normalizing relations with a former enemy -- vietnam. >> so, he did it for his country, not for him. and it was a privilege to be an
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eyewitness to that kind of patriotism. >> he pushed for campaign finance reform. the result? the bipartisan campaign reform act, better known as the mccain/feingold act. >> he partnered with russ fine feingold. >> and one of his other priorities, immigration reform. >> he understood that the only way they're going -- the gop and the country is going to succeed is if they have immigration policies that are strong and compassionate. >> senator mccain wanted very badly to become president mccain. >> thank you very much. >> he first ran in 2000. >> and i know my principles and i know my ideals and i know my goals for the future of this country. >> well, when john mccain first started to run, nobody knew who he was. in an effort to try and get
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better known, he wanted full access to the media all the time. >> thus was born the straight talk express. >> he was always on the record. >> i compare myself to luke skywalker. >> he was just a rolling adventurer. >> where you want to be on january 20th, 2001. >> yes, sir. i'd like to be raising my hand and i'd like to be saying to the american people, you young people say there are no great causes anymore. every place where there's a hungry child, there's a great cause. every play where there's a senior citizen without a home, there's a great cause. and every place in the world where people are killing each other because of ethnic or age-old antagonism, there's a great cause and i'm calling to them. >> senator mccain, do you think you're going to be president of the united states? >> i think i have every good possibility of winning. >> by christmas time, we knew we had something special happening. headquarters were flooded with people. >> he surprised the front-runner, george bush, with an early victory in new hampshire. >> he ends up winning by more than 17 points.
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it was this colossal landslide upset victory. >> you will always hear the truth from me, no matter what, in this campaign. >> but he hit a snag in south carolina, when he told voters it was up to them to decide if they should allow the confederate flag to fly over the capital. >> he was opposed to the fact that flag was flying in the capital s but his advisers had convinced him that coming out and saying that would be devastating for him in south carolina. so, it was one of the few times you saw mccain come out and do something that was absolutely against his own personal convictions. >> so, mccain actually returned to south carolina to publicly apologize. >> and i want to finish today by owning up to my failure. >> he lost south carolina and faced a formidable opponent in george w. bush, along with a barrage of negative attack ads. mccain would not prevail in the 2000 race. >> the majority of republican voters made clear their
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preference for president is governor bush. >> mccain's second presidential run was against barack obama in 2008. it took him farther to the right and much closer to the white house. >> john mccain, interestingly, understood that he lost in 2000 in part because he didn't have enough conservative mantra. >> it's a totally different campaign from 2000. much more careful, much more scripted. >> but he's still not afraid to speak his mind. >> so, that moment when the woman steps up and says she's afraid of obama and that he's a muslim, was vintage mccain. >> i can't trust obama. i have read about him and he's not -- he's not -- he's a -- he's an arab. >> no, ma'am, no, ma'am. he's -- he's a decent family man, citizen, that i just happen to have disagreements with. >> when he heard those comments,
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he was willing to call them out. and the playing to fear of foreigners, fear of immigrants, fear of those different than us, that was as anti-john mccain as you could get. >> but the biggest surprise of mccain's campaign, his running mate. >> his brain trust gets together and says, you know, there are lots of women who resent the fact that hillary clinton didn't get the nomination of their party. if we put a woman on the ticket, we're going to get a lot of those votes. mccain said, well, might be a good idea. what woman? they looked around and they see this new governor of alaska. they don't know much about her. >> picking sarah palin was, in some sense, the ultimate maverick move. plucking a junior governor out of alaska because he liked her spunk, he liked her attitude. there wasn't a lot of thought beyond that, into that decision. >> he talks to her for an hour
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and 15 minutes. they don't talk heavy theory or politics. they don't talk about the peace process in the middle east. he buys the argument that a woman on the ticket will help him and he says, she's my running mate. >> sarah palin. >> she has a great convention speech. it looks, for a moment, like maybe this was a stroke of genius. >> i was just your average hockey mom and signed up for the pta. i love those hockey moms. you know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? lipstick. >> and it turned out to be a terrible disaster. >> mccain lost in 2008, he didn't just lose. he got shellacked. i mean, he got beaten badly by barack obama. it was a landslide. the defeat was tough on him, and i think it was tough on him in part because ultimately, he didn't run the campaign that he wanted to run. >> mark salter wrote mccain's concession speech. >> he goes, i want it to be short, i want it to be generous, i want to say, this is a good thing for our country. i want it to be clear that i think election of an african-american president is a great step forward for the
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country. >> the american people have spoken and they have spoken clearly. >> in hindsight, many wonder, what did he think about his choice of sarah palin? >> he never said a critical word about her before or after or during or after, not privately or publicly. >> i think it's something that haunted mccain for a long time. and i think he did deeply regret it and had a hard time acknowledging, admitting to himself how big a mistake it was. >> never a quitter, after his two failed presidential runs, mccain's political career was far from over. he became chairman of the senate armed services committee and a key player in foreign policy. next, john mccain's legacy. >> at the end of five years, five years from now, the america you dream of? >> i dream of an america that's at peace.
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the world is a fine place and worth fighting for, and i hate very much to leave it, spoke my hero robert jordan in for whom the bell tolls. and i do, too. i hate to leave it, but i don't have a complaint. not one. >> he's been called every name many the book by a lot of people. and he's confident in his own skin. >> unsuccessful presidential candidates rarely leave a legacy, but mccain is different. >> we're americans, and we never give up. we never quit. >> loved serving his country. when he was a midshipman going into the naval academy at 18 to a united states senator. >> he did almost die for his country.
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that's about the biggest sacrifice you can make for your country. >> he believed in the ideals of america. >> i think john mccain would like his legacy to be an understanding that america is a unique place. >> that it's worth the fight to preserve what's made this country strong. >> nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself. >> he would tell you, tie yourself to a cause that's bigger than you. you'll have adventures and satisfaction and joy in your life. >> you wrote, earning the respect of my father and grandfather has been the most lasting ambition of my life. feel it's been achieved? >> well, i work at it every day. i've been an imperfect servant of this country, but i have tried to live up to their legacy and the tradition of service to the country. >> i love you so much. >> john mccain has lived an incredible life. he's an american hero by any definition. >> i have loved my life, all of it. some things didn't work out the
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way i hoped they would. i had difficult moments, but by god, i enjoyed it. every damn day of it. >> a man who loved his life, he was grateful for his life. >> but a man who also said so who loved his life and he was grateful. >> he said it was about something much greater than his life. when his life was at risk. that is "20/20" for tonight. i'm david muir. >> i'm amy robach. for all of us here at abc news and "20/20," good night. did you feel it? earthquake centered in
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