John McCain is headed back to the U.S. Senate, perhaps a changed and chastened man, and perhaps not.
But the manner in which he secured his Senate seat for another six years is instructive, and not only for moderate Republicans facing off against conservatives and tea party candidates, but for 2012.
Realizing his career was on the line, McCain began to run attack ads against his rival, ex-Rep. J.D. Hayworth, an authentic conservative, while J.D. was still a radio talk show host.
When J.D. announced, and surged to within five points of McCain, the senator did not hesitate to call in Sarah Palin, though his own staff aides from the 2008 campaign had been trashing her as a lightweight and principal cause of McCain's defeat.
McCain then repudiated his famous "maverick" moniker as a misnomer, as it implied that he had been First RINO (Republican in name only), who had relished siding with Democrats against his own party -- a practice that had endeared McCain to the mainstream media.
McCain then joined Sen. Jon Kyl in proposing a 10-point border security plan calling for a fence and troops. John Amnesty of 2007 was now doing a passable imitation of Tom Tancredo 2008.
McCain used much of his $20 million war chest to savage J.D. on radio and TV, then created an ad with him walking the border with no-nonsense Sheriff Paul Babeu, saying, "Complete the dang fence!" and Babeu responding, "Senator, you're one of us."
While J.D. ran a courageous campaign, he never got the support to which his conservative record entitled him, and lost by 24 points.
McCain's victory has cost him dearly with a national press that loathed the campaign he conducted. Many concur with the Democratic National Committee, which charged McCain with selling his soul to win his renomination. From the network studios in New York to the newsrooms of Washington, McCain is no longer Lancelot, but Mordred.
Yet, he did what he had to do to keep his job. And he has kept his job for six more years.
Had he been as ruthlessly opportunistic and pragmatic in his run against Barack Obama as he was in the campaign against J.D., McCain would be president now.
Indeed, had McCain led the battle for border security in 2008, conceded that NAFTA had not worked, called for its renegotiation and an industrial policy to create manufacturing jobs in America, and taken Obama apart as a man of the radical left, comfortable in the church of a racist preacher, McCain would have been leading his country this year, not fighting to save his Senate seat.
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