There was always a nagging sense among Republicans that the senator devoted much of his time and energy to courting the praise of the media. The media loved McCain's bipartisan endeavors with the Senate's most liberal members; conservatives less so.
There may be something about suffering an electoral defeat at the hands of George W. Bush that drives the vanquished to have the politician's equivalent of an emotional breakdown.
Although it's hard to remember now, not too long ago Al Gore was routinely derided for being a boring, staid and utterly pedestrian politician. Only after losing to Bush did he become a ranting, bloated symbol of the angry left.
Before tangling with Bush, John Kerry was a cautious and soporific senator. After his defeat in 2004, Kerry has shown a strange determination to transform himself into an enduring punch line for late-night comics.
John McCain lost to George Bush in the 2000 primaries in an ugly and bitter race. The Bushies play political hardball, and they didn't go easy on McCain because he had an R after his name. Perhaps that explains why John McCain spent so much time over the last six years publicly antagonizing the Bush administration.
Regardless, McCain's shtick grew stale a long time ago for most Republicans. Although his friends in the media have universally hailed the Arizonan as the front-runner for the GOP nomination, McCain has never led Rudy Giuliani in any public opinion polls. The latest polls show Giuliani maintaining a comfortable double-digit lead over the putative front-runner.
Republican voters have a deserved reputation for handing their presidential nomination to the favorite.
For six years, John McCain has seemed oddly set upon causing the Republican electorate to revisit the wisdom of that habit. Only in the last couple of weeks has it begun to dawn on some members of the media that McCain isn't merely "doing poorly for a front-runner." Rather, McCain stopped being the front-runner a while ago.
It's particularly surprising to hear McCain resurrect his maverick straight-talk express at a time when his campaign is taking on water.
Even for Republicans who agree with the substance of McCain's comments on Rumsfeld, the comments will serve as a reminder of the childish contrarian streak that caused McCain to fall from their favor in the first place.
Dean Barnett blogs almost daily at HughHewitt.com. He has also been a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard's online edition, The Daily Standard. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be the first to read Dean Barnett's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.