In a world where the economy was in turmoil and populist anger was percolating, Obama’s suggestion [to introduce a bill on comprehensive immigration reform] looked to McCain more like an invitation to political self-immolation, especially in Arizona, where McCain faced a reelection campaign in 2010 with a volatile electorate sliding toward tea-party politics. The exchange stoked lingering feelings over all that had happened in 2008: the economic collapse that stole his thunder, the bickering in his campaign, the press’s abandoning him, how the choice of Sarah Palin threw his judgment into question. He sees Obama less as the leader of all the people than a man who beat him, with a few lucky breaks. “He’s angry at Obama, at former staff, at his family life, at his fellow Americans,” says a veteran Republican strategist who has worked closely with McCain. “He’s angry.”…
Ironically, both McCain’s opponent and his own supporters agree on one thing: If he wins, he’ll probably morph yet again, a lame-duck senator with nothing to lose, tacking left to reclaim his old mantle as a thorn in his party’s side. It’s what friends like Graham envision for him.
“What I hope will happen is that he’ll be the force against excess and the person who can find that common ground we need to have as a nation. That’s what I hope will happen, and that’s what I expect will happen.”
“Here’s the question for John,” Graham adds. “If he’s asked to support comprehensive immigration reform, does he support it?”
I observed that if this conversation about how to resolve tough issues were taking place in 2006, I would likely be having it not with Graham but with his friend and legislative mentor, John McCain. “Totally agree,” he responded. “I mean, I was the wingman, O.K.?” But, he acknowledged, things are different now: “John’s got a primary. He’s got to focus on getting re-elected. I don’t want my friend to get beat.”
I asked whether he was giving McCain a pass on anything risky this year.