Headline in The New York Times:
How about since 1998?
Dear National Press Corps,
John McCain voted to convict Bill Clinton on both counts of the impeachment.
I know some of you still think Clinton should have been run out of town on a rail for being smarter, more successful, better looking, and more attractive to young women in red berets than you were, but still note. Five Republican senators voted against their leadership in what most Americans rightly saw as a Republican attempt at a bloodless coup intended to make Newt Gingrich President---they were going to go after Al Gore next. Cf. Helms, Jesse; China---and John McCain was not among those rebels.
John McCain is not and never has been a rebel or, as you used to love to flatter him, a maverick.
He is a vain, spiteful, ill-tempered, and mean little man who for a short time in the early days of the Clinton Administration, was willing to do a few things that the Republican Party leadership would have rathered he didn’t. But that stopped when he decided he wanted to run for President in 2000. His reputation for mavericky-ness and rebel-hood is mostly based on his willingness to say nasty things about other Republicans to reporters off the record.
McCain’s reputation for outsidery-ness was based on your desperate need to feel insidery.
John McCain is now and has always been a very rightward-leaning Republican. What he has never been is a leader among his fellow Republicans and that has often caused him to throw public tantrums and spew spite in private, but it has never led to him mustering any real challenge to the Party leadership.
Over the course of his career in the Senate, he has had multiple opportunities to demonstrate both leadership and independence. One was in 2000, after George W. Bush and Karl Rove pulled the nomination out from under his feet and many people, inside the party and out, recognizing the Bush Leaguers for what they were, urged him to run as an independent. That would have been a tall order, and the likely result would have been President Al Gore with no one ever having to hear the words “hanging chads”. The point is, though, that McCain did not channel his inner Theodore Roosevelt. In the end, he remained a loyal Republican.
Not only did he refuse to challenge Bush again, after Bush was installed as President McCain literally embraced him. He became a Bush Administration cheerleader on everything except torture and while his stand against that was principled it was not particularly forceful and definitely not effective. And it didn’t lead to him breaking ranks with the Party leadership in any substantial way, because…he wanted to run for President again, as a Republican.
As a Right Wing Republican.
Another opportunity to rebel came in 2009. He could have put the bitterness of his defeat behind him and become the champion of the bipartisanship the new President naively sought and the nation needed.
Instead, the President and the Democrats had to beg for votes from the likes of Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown, neither of whom was ever really in the position to profitably challenge the Republican Right that McCain was. And they still came through a couple of times.
And in 2010, when he ran for re-election to the Senate, he did not run as a rebel or a maverick. He ran as a Right Wing Republican promising to be an even more Right Wing Republican than his Right Wing Republican primary challenger.
Arizona was in the process of going crazy and John McCain went before the voters and promised, “Vote for me and I will represent your craziness for six more years!”
He actually hasn’t. Not always. But as the New York Times makes clear, while occasionally calling out the Tea Party wing of the House Republicans for their destructiveness and lunacy, he has still been steadfastly loyal to the Senate Republican leadership.
The Times’ article might be a case of too little too late and just an opportunity for partisan Democrats like me to write blog posts like I’m writing here right now, saying, “We told you so!” But, also from a partisan point of view, there is some practical good. To win in November, Mitt Romney needs the votes of the Republican Right and Independents, and to get the latter he needs to convince Independents that his pandering to the Right is all cynical show. Once he’s President he will---We swear!---revert to his true moderate self. John McCain or at any rate the image of John McCain as a maverick is useful for signaling that message. I hope some Independents will read the Times article and realize that Mitt’s having John McCain as one of his surrogates is pretty much the same as having any other Republican as a surrogate. If elected, Mitt will be the nominal leader of his party and at the moment his party is run by the Radical Right. John McCain is a loyal member of that party and no rebel and no supporter of rebels.
My main point here, however, you folks in the National Press Corps, is that John McCain’s reputation as a rebel, even a once-upon-a-time rebel, is entirely your creation.
You never covered John McCain the Republican politician. You covered the image of John McCain, maverick. And that’s indicative of your coverage of the Republican Party in general for twenty years. You’ve covered an image of your creation. You’ve ignored what the Republicans have been saying and doing and reported on them as if the GOP was still the party of Dwight Eisenhower and George Romney, of Howard Baker and George Herbert Walker Bush.
You covered John McCain as if he’s been a rebel all these years without noting what he was supposedly rebelling against.
A radical Right Wing party in the thrall of know-nothings, lunatics, religious maniacs, and racists.
And the real John McCain has been walking that party’s line for years.
Cliff Schecter’s The Real McCain: Why Conservatives Don't Trust Him and Why Independents Shouldn't was written for the 2008 election but it’s still worth revisiting.