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  • Writer's pictureMarc Johnson

The Death of a Brand


The Once and Future John McCain There once was a time when Arizona Sen. John McCain warmly embraced the label “maverick.” He seemed to delight in taking positions at odds with his party – or even his state’s – orthodoxy. He had established himself firmly in the tradition of some of the great Senate mavericks of the past – LaFollette, Borah, even Goldwater.

But just as BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” brand washed away in the Gulf oil spill, so has McCain’s maverick brand forever vanished thanks to his presidential election run and his ugly, but still decisive, victory yesterday in the GOP primary in Arizona. McCain, by all odds, will be back in the Senate post-November, but not as a maverick and likely not ever again as an interesting, important American political player.

I have always found the tough, opinionated McCain to be one of the more fascinating characters in American politics. His personal story, the POW experience, his once obvious regard for those on the other side of the aisle, his old school willingness to be an unpredictable independent couldn’t help, at one time, to make him an interesting, maybe even historic, player in the long history of the Senate. That brand is gone, I think, and with it much that made John McCain so interesting and important in the Senate.

As Politico noted in its story today about McCain, during the most recent primary, in addition to spending $21 million, he repudiated many of the positions – immigration, climate change, etc. – that once made his maverick brand genuine:

“Immigration wasn’t the only issue where McCain seemed to recalibrate his position in response to the primary challenge,” Politico said. “He also promised to filibuster any legislation that revoked the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy after pledging to support the repeal in 2006 and he distanced himself from an emissions capping measure he co-sponsored with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) as conservative anger over cap-and-trail boiled over.”

As one commentator noted, McCain rolled out a TV spot with six, tough looking Arizona sheriffs to attest to his new, tough stand on immigration. This is the guy who once teamed with Ted Kennedy to write an immigration reform bill, but during the campaign he walked away – ran away – from all that history.

“The votes are in,” Adam Hanft wrote at the CNN website. “The sheriffs spot — and an entire campaign apparatus that had to relegitimize the senator’s conservative acceptability, including an endorsement from Sarah Palin — did the job.

“But it’s a profound comment on where Republican politics stand in 2010 that John McCain had to run against a new challenger by also running against his old principles.”

The Senate was a more interesting place when McCain the Maverick roamed the floor. He may, who knows, prove to be a maverick again once safely re-elected, but he may also find that in politics once you are seen as running from your principles its pretty hard to ever again be taken seriously, as a maverick or anything else.

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