James Joyner remarks on McCain’s latest return to the role of Senate deal-maker:
John McCain has long been a bitter foe of President Obama, who beat him in the 2008 contest for the White House. On foreign policy, in particular, the acrimony remains. Suddenly, though, the cranky 76-year-old senior senator from Arizona has become the key facilitator for getting things done.
James treats this as a welcome development, but this is just a reminder that McCain is driven to an extraordinary degree by the grudges he holds against other politicians. He can spend years carrying out a vendetta even when it gains him nothing. While I agree with James that McCain’s treatment of Hagel earlier this year was an embarrassment, this was not that different from many other episodes in McCain’s career. Hagel certainly irked McCain by criticing the Iraq war and objecting to the “surge,” which were serious deviations in McCain’s eyes, but what really seemed to make McCain so hostile was Hagel’s lack of support for his presidential bid in 2008. Prior to that, McCain was willing to entertain the idea of naming Hagel as his running mate or a member of the Cabinet. Once Hagel withheld his endorsement, that was no longer the case. When he is beaten at the polls by someone he believes to be unworthy, as he was in 2000 and 2008, he seems to make it his mission to derail or oppose his former opponent’s agenda. He’s only interested in “getting things done” when his hostility to his former opponent has been exceeded by newfound contempt for someone else.
The main exception to this is foreign policy, where McCain has been unfortunately only too consistent in his advocacy of new wars and unending military commitments. This means that McCain is relentlessly wrong on substance where he can do the most damage, and on almost everything else (besides immigration) his position seems to depend on whether be feels slighted by one side more than the other. So every few years we are treated to the “old McCain is back” storyline, but the old McCain never left. He has just found someone new to loathe.