When Mitt Romney declared, during a Republican primary debate in Tampa, that he would pressure illegal immigrants to “self-deport” back to their home countries, John McCain was downright disturbed. Worried that his former rival was grievously wounding himself with Hispanic voters, the Arizona senator staged an intervention. He and fellow senator Lindsey Graham placed a joint call to Romney in January, urging him to tone down his rhetoric. Romney listened politely, sources say, and did not use the phrase again.
It was a rare instance of Romney taking counsel from the man who beat him in the last campaign—and who has been relegated to a behind-the-scenes role in this one. Four years after his own presidential bid, McCain’s luster as a Republican Party spokesman appears to have dimmed: a number of proposed campaign trips on Romney’s behalf have quietly evaporated, and there has been no offer of a speaking slot at the GOP convention. “He’s chomping at the bit to do something,” a McCain aide confides.