I don’t think this rises all the way to the level of “lies you deserve to lose an election for telling,” but it’s so cynical and pathetic an attempt at rebranding that he deserves to have it blow up in his face. Which is precisely what’s happening today.

Much as the crowd ate up her every word, Palin had apparently missed the real message this electoral season in Arizona: for his three decades in Congress, McCain hadn’t gone with the flow enough, at least not enough to satisfy many Arizona Republicans. Why else would his rival, former congressman J.D. Hayworth, be billing himself as “the consistent conservative”? Many of the GOP’s most faithful, the kind who vote in primaries despite 115-degree heat, tired long ago of McCain the Maverick, the man who had crossed the aisle to work with Democrats on issues like immigration reform, global warming, and restricting campaign contributions. “Maverick” is a mantle McCain no longer claims; in fact, he now denies he ever was one. “I never considered myself a maverick,” he told me. “I consider myself a person who serves the people of Arizona to the best of his abilities.” Yet here was Palin, urging her fans four times in 15 minutes to send McCain the Maverick back to Washington…

With no prominent Democrats in the race, a win in the Republican primary will almost certainly return McCain to Washington. But which McCain? On that, Hayworth and McCain agree. “It’ll be a lead-pipe cinch that John will go back to being John, and taking delight at poking conservatives in the eye,” says Hayworth. “He’d like to have that status that a Ted Kennedy had as ‘lion of the Senate,’ doing those things that win him praise in the eyes of the Washington press corps.” “The fundamentals of my character were formed a long, long time ago under sometimes difficult circumstances,” says McCain. “I’m not going to fundamentally change.”

Seizing the moment, Hayworth got on the phone to Politico and let him have it:

“It’s a word that has been expunged from his vocabulary,” Hayworth said. “If memory serves, his campaign plane was called ‘Maverick One,’ and, as I understand it, in national campaigns they spend a lot of time on that stuff.”

“If you’re scoring at home, how many reversals is this?” Hayworth added, running through what he sees as a litany of McCain position changes. “He’s moving away from legislative reversals into branding reversals. It’s the new John McCain, nonmaverick edition, for the Arizona Senate election.”

How stupid is the “not a maverick” rebranding? Here’s an ad from 2008 that Ben Smith dug up (just one of two clips he’s posted of the M-word being dropped on the trail that year), but there’s actually a more recent — and relevant — reference than that. Check out the second clip below, which comes from McCain’s own campaign, at around 42 seconds in. I guess Sarahcuda didn’t get the memo.

Update: A few more trips down memory lane via Tapper’s Twitter feed.