|Illustration of Arizona Sen. John McCain: Edward Sorel/Vanity Fair|
It was a Friday evening in Phoenix and 110 in the shade. In the studio of a local independent television station, the compact, cocky, balding, white-haired man who, earlier in the decade, reigned as the nation’s most popular politician, and two years ago was the Republican Party’s unlikely presidential standard-bearer, was trapped in an annoying hour-long debate, sandwiched between two political pip-squeaks who wanted his job.
If John McCain found the situation awkward, he didn’t show it. He just smiled tightly and took it—and he gave as good as he got.
McCain ripped into his principal challenger for the Republican nomination for what would be his fifth term in the Senate, the former Arizona congressman and conservative talk-radio personality J. D. Hayworth—dismissing him by saying that “after he was voted out by his constituents, he became a lobbyist, and after that a talk-show host, and then after that an infomercial and late-night star.” McCain was gently solicitous of his other rival, Jim Deakin, a contractor, small-businessman, and, as the debate moderator noted, “a guest lecturer at Scottsdale Community College,” who was making his first run for public office, under the Tea Party banner.
But it fell to Hayworth, a glib galoot who was twice informally ranked among the dumbest members of Congress during his 12 years in the House, to deliver the dead-on zinger that summed up where McCain has found himself in this strange and angry political season, struggling not to win the presidency but simply to hold on to the job which defines him, and which is all he has left. “It’s really sad to see John McCain, who should be revered as a statesman, basically reduced to a political shape-shifter,” Hayworth said.
So it is.
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