Home/Daniel Larison/McCain Is a “Centrist,” Not a “Maverick”

McCain Is a “Centrist,” Not a “Maverick”

McCain’s comments (and the controversy they caused ) raise an intriguing question: Has McCain the straight-talking maverick been reborn? ~Chris Cillizza

The answer to the question is no, but it’s not because there ever was a “straight-talking maverick” to be reborn. It isn’t even an intriguing question. The idea that McCain has ever been a maverick is one of the most tiresome and enduring cliches in contemporary politics. McCain has made a career out of using conservatives in his party as a foil and often as a punching bag whenever he has wanted to grandstand and moralize about any issue. He has also made a habit of positioning himself in favor of whatever the fashionable Washington consensus has happened to be. It is no accident that all of McCain’s famous apostasies have aligned him with “centrist” conventional wisdom, and he has cultivated his reputation as a “centrist” to win fawning admiration from the press, which many journalists have been only too happy to provide.

Sometimes this has involved breaking with his party, which is what originally earned him the “maverick” label, and sometimes it has involved lining up with his party’s leadership, but at all times it requires him to denigrate and dismiss conservatives as foolish or reckless or perhaps even evil. This has not been hard duty for McCain. Policy substance has no bearing on this, as McCain will invariably side with the fashionable consensus view whether it makes sense or not. It has only been during election seasons when McCain felt vulnerable to a voter backlash that he has tacked back towards more conservative positions, as he did most egregiously on immigration during his re-election bid last year. In any case, there is nothing brave or independent-minded in denouncing Republican holdouts on raising the debt ceiling. This is the definition of taking the path of least resistance.

Cillizza acknowledges as much near the end:

The less favorable view of McCain’s journey over the last decade is that he has bent to the political winds — embracing the maverick mantle when it served his purposes and walking away from it when it didn’t.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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