As we've noted on The Range and in our print edition, Sen. John McCain is getting a lot of attention these days, with some folks observing that he is undergoing yet another makeover. The New Republic's Isaac Chotiner asked him about it in an interview that was posted today:
IC: I am sure you hate psychological questions, but people say you are driven by anger: that you were angry about Bush, so you worked with Democrats; and then you were angry with Obama, and so you swung right. And now there’s Ted Cruz and the rest, and you are working with Democrats again.
JM: If you use the word anger, then obviously it is a very detrimental trait. If you use the word passion, that is a valuable thing to have. Losing to George W. Bush didn’t change my behavior. I thought as a fiscal conservative it was wrong to have tax cuts that we didn’t pay for, to have a secretary of defense who was the steward of a failing strategy in Iraq. And so it wasn’t anger, but when I go to Walter Reed and see men with no legs, and have my own sons serving in the military, I feel passionate. If I didn’t feel passionate, I shouldn’t be in the business I am in.
Have I stepped on some toes? Yes. Have I angered some people that I probably could have avoided? I think so. But I would challenge you to talk—with rare exceptions—to my colleagues, and they would say I treat them with respect. It’s maybe interesting that, whenever there is a major issue to be addressed, somehow I am in the mix. You don’t get in the mix unless you have the respect of your colleagues. Maybe you can name me a major issue that has come up that I haven’t been in the mix about.
He also addressed the question of how he feels about Sarah Palin these days:
IC: Does it bother you when people say choosing Sarah Palin is your legacy?
JM: No, because I think historians will decide that facts are stubborn things. We were four points down when I chose her and three points up afterwards. She held her own and, some people said, won a debate with the vice president. She did everything I ever wanted. She excited our base in a way I was unable to achieve. And then I watched the shredding and destruction to destroy a good and decent person by the liberal media, beginning with Katie Couric. Not only do I not regret it, but I have probably not seen anyone in American life savaged like she was, particularly by the liberal left.
IC: Do you draw any connection between her outlook and the group of congressional Republicans, Tea Partiers, that you have had trouble with?
JM: No, because I think she had a positive message. A message that we would have less government, lower taxes, less regulation. Many in this group didn’t come to power to get things done. They came to power to keep things from getting done.
IC: Just to ask you about that, though, and to go back to the stuff Jon was saying—I know he had to get reelected in 2010—but it seems like if he’d wanted to be a major, major player in the Obama agenda in 2009 he could have been. I mean, he had a lot of political capital to do that. And it seemed like he chose not to do that and he’s choosing much more to do it now, and it does somewhat coincide with his clear dislike for elements of the Tea Party and especially the sort of Rand-Paul-Mike-Lee-Ted-Cruz wing in the Senate, right?
RC: No, that’s exactly right. I think McCain’s relationship to the Tea Party his souring on the Tea Party is a key element of his recent maneuvers. I think McCain has a lot of—I think he, Lindsey Graham and others who have been making deals for a long time have grown almost tired of the Tea Party, and though McCain went to the right hard in 2010 he doesn’t have any relationship with the right flank of the senate. He doesn’t have much of a relationship at all with the conservative grassroots and the activists around the country, and if anything he’s irked by them, and you see it with his comments about the “wacko birds.”
JC: Every position McCain took or reinterpreted from 1999 to 2003 realigned himself on the left. And actually he was siding with the Democratic Party on all the major issues, domestic policies of the Bush administration in the first term. It’s pretty clear that in 2004 he decided he was going to run for president [in 2008] and then he just got himself right with the Republicans on pretty much all those issues one-by-one, just went through as many as possible of the areas of disagreement that sat between him and the Republican party establishment.