The talk radio right has been fed up with John McCain for a long time, but they always seem to have trouble stopping him in Republican primaries. In 2000, his maverick candidacy took the establishment by surprise. Most famously, the Arizonan won the GOP nomination in 2008 despite being hated by Rush Limbaugh, movement conservatism’s most powerful on-air taste maker.
It is only fitting that last night, in what is likely to be his last Republican Party contest, the 73-year-old senator beat J.D. Hayworth, a former Congressman and talk radio host. One voter, retiree Blanche Kinsley, captured the moment in remarks to The New York Times explaining why she chose the incumbent. “I don’t like either of them,” she said. “But I used to hear J. D. Hayworth on the radio and he annoyed me.”
John McCain wasn’t ever as much a maverick as his fans once thought—a better descriptor would be that he was a savvy opportunist adept at reading the electoral landscape.
• Mark McKinnon: 5 Lessons from the Primaries• Tunku Varadarajan: McCain’s Embarrassing Last Act• Complete coverage of the primariesOf course, that Mr. Hayworth lost the election doesn’t mean his challenge from the right was made in vain. As Dave Weigel noted, “he succeeded in driving McCain to the right on a number of issues and inspiring no end of ‘what happened to our beloved Maverick?’ thumb-suckers in the eastern press....”
As it turns out, John McCain wasn’t ever as much a maverick as his fans once thought--a better descriptor would be that he was a savvy opportunist adept at reading the electoral landscape, and shameless enough to change accordingly, sometimes for better, other times for the worse. That’s how you stay in the Senate for decades on end. Thankfully, should he win re-election this November, he’ll be returning to an office that doesn’t allow him to choose his own replacement.
Conor Friedersdorf blogs at True/Slant and The American Scene. Follow him on Twitter at Conor64.