"Bad Republican" started out as "a very serious political book," she tells USA TODAY. But submitted amid a global pandemic, it was deemed too serious for the times by her editor, agent, friends and husband, Ben Domenech, publisher of the conservative online magazine The Federalist.
Her rewrite, delivered in her own spoken words, includes moments of levity. "New motherhood is how I imagine it is to do ecstasy at Burning Man," McCain, who turns 37 on Saturday, declares in “Bad Republican.” (McCain and Domenech welcomed daughter Liberty in September 2020.) "It's glorious, but everyone's in weird outfits, and it doesn't quite feel real. Also, it's hard to stay hydrated."
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She writes about the early days of her relationship with Domenech, celebrates friendships and mentions an uncomfortable phone call from former President Donald Trump, an adversary of her late father, Sen. John McCain. Darker moments of McCain's life are also included: the postpartum anxiety that followed Liberty's birth and the miscarriage that preceded it (and coincided with an appearance on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" that drew attention). She also details the last moments with her father, who died in 2018 from a cancerous brain tumor.
She tells USA TODAY shed tears in the recording booth but hopes these personal stories offer listeners comfort.
"I felt so alone in so many experiences in my life, and my stories are not unique," she says in an interview. "I just wanted to share and hopefully make people feel a little less alone if it's possible."
In the last chapter, McCain reveals why she walked away from "The View" after four seasons. The way she was treated as the panel's sole conservative voice "made it impossible for me to stay," she says in the memoir. She also comments on show moderator Whoopi Goldberg's "open disdain" for her and says an on-air clash with Joy Behar sealed her fate. The show "is billed as an arena for women to share and discuss their views on politics and the most important topics of the day, an arena historically occupied by men, a space where women support and respectfully challenge each other. But, the truth is that the environment on the show is toxic," McCain says in "Bad Republican."
USA TODAY reached out to "The View," Goldberg and Behar for comment. A spokesperson for the talk show described its staff as "collaborative and supportive." “For 25 years, 'The View' has been a platform on air and behind the scenes for strong women," the statement read. "Live television and different perspectives can often lead to surprising moments, but the team is collaborative and supportive – focused on delivering an informative daily talk show to our loyal viewers.”
McCain spoke with USA TODAY about her audiobook's most challenging chapters, the depths of her postpartum anxiety, and where she stands with Behar and Goldberg today:
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Question: You cover very personal topics in "Bad Republican." What were the hardest parts for you to write?
Meghan McCain: Anything having to do with my dad and cancer was very hard to write. It was hard to write about my miscarriage and Seth Meyers. I intentionally put it in the second chapter because I felt like I just wanted to give a little more explanation for what it feels like to be the center of a media (storm) and be going through something so tragic and personal at the same time. ... I just wanted to give context to a lot of the trauma I went through. Sometimes when I look pissed off or sad on the show, it's because my dad just had a seizure or I just had a D&C (dilation and curettage, performed for reasons including "to clear the uterine lining after a miscarriage," according to the Mayo Clinic).
Q: How are you doing today, three years after your dad's death?
McCain: I'm much better, but I also am very open about the fact that I've had grief counseling, serious therapy. I went on medication for postpartum anxiety. I've been on antidepressants at different periods of time. I've done everything. I really believe in doing the work to get to the other side.
That doesn't mean it's still not painful. On the anniversary of my dad's death this year (Aug. 25), I cried all day. It's still raw at different times, but you do heal. I always say grief is quieter now. When it comes, it's still big, but it's quieter, and there's more time in between.
Q: How did postpartum anxiety affect you?
McCain: I was obsessed with my child to the point that I was nonfunctioning. I had a hard time letting anyone else hold her, or feed her, or take care of her. Then I became really paranoid about being so controversial and being someone that was on this TV show that America seemed to hate and that someone would hate me so much that they would take it out on my new baby. It's not rational.
It was harder than grief for me because I felt like grief was something I could really understand. I knew that my dad died of terminal cancer so this is why I feel this way. After I had a baby, I didn't understand why I was so scared of something happening to her in a way that, again, it goes beyond just like normal mother, I fear for my child worries. But I'm great now. I've been great for a long time, thank God.
Q: You didn't receive a welcome as warm as you expected when you returned to "The View." On your second day back, you teased Behar that she missed fighting with you, to which she responded: "I did not miss you. Zero." (Before that, Behar appeared frustrated that McCain interrupted her, saying: "Excuse me, am I done? I'm not done.") How did it feel returning to that?
McCain: I was really proud of the fact that I had made it back to the show because I had such a hard time, just physically. I had an emergency C-section, and then I had postpartum preeclampsia. And I was in the hospital for a week on a magnesium drip, and then when I went home I had a really hard time, physically – taking care of myself, walking up stairs. I had extremely high blood pressure. I had to take my blood pressure when I first got home, every two hours and text the doctor what it was because I sort of talked my way out of the hospital after a week because I couldn't sleep there, with the noises and the machines. So it took me a lot, physically, to get to a place where I was really happy to go back to the show.
And then this moment (with Behar) ... I was just deeply humiliated and heartbroken, and I felt really worthless. I felt like I was like not being a great mom, and I was also not being great at my job. And then countered with what I was going through with postpartum anxiety, I had a panic attack in my office, and I threw up, and I couldn't stop crying, and it just was the catalyst for the end for me. That it was when I decided I was leaving the show. I'm not angry at her. I have no ill will. I've completely forgiven and moved on.
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Q: Were there any other factors that contributed to your decision to leave? You say in "Bad Republican" you asked for an apology from Behar but didn't get one. You also describe the work environment as "toxic."
McCain: It was quite a few things. Some of it was COVID and me just having time to reassess my life. Some of it was the work environment, and just quite frankly, the idea of going back into a studio where rampant leaking (to the press) happens, where there's this drama and fighting. I just felt like in that moment, and this sounds dramatic, but I literally could see myself crying in my office, and I was like "I am a strong, educated woman who has a lot of things to say," and I feel like this is becoming reality-show-esque. I just felt like it was completely without kindness and without heart, and I just didn't want to do it anymore. And, I'm a very impulsive person. And sometimes when I make a decision, that's it, and that happened to me. It was the final thing that I was just like, "That's it. This is it, being welcomed back from maternity leave with this moment is the end for me." And it was.
Q: Where do your relationships with Goldberg and Behar stand today?
McCain: Whoopi and I actually texted quite a bit when I left the show, and she's very kind and very sweet. I think a lot of things were lost during COVID because of the satellite relationship we had, but I love Whoopi. I think she's an American icon, and she's an innately decent and wonderful, kind person. If I ever saw her, I would give her a hug and talk to her.
With Joy, if I saw her, I would be friendly, I don't know if she would be friendly to me back. I really have no ill will. I understand that they're probably gonna be pissed off about some of the things I'm sharing, but I was pissed off at a lot of things that were shared about me that were personal and private during the time that I was there that just felt like rampant fodder for gossip sites.
But at the end of the day, I do have respect for Joy and what she does and the fact that she's been on "The View" for 25 years. (Behar left for two years in 2013.) She, too, is an American television icon, and I really have no ill will towards any of them. I wish them all success and love and light, I know the show's going to go on to be incredible and they're gonna find somebody amazing to replace me. I'm really grateful for the experience. I just think sometimes in life you're meant to stay at a place for a season of your life, and sometimes it's forever. And for me, I just felt like I was in "The View" grad school, and I did my four years, and then I was ready to move on.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meghan McCain: Former View host decided to exit after this on-air spat