in an interview with Yahoo! News. “I have been as ferocious a fighter and I think as partisan as strong as anybody but, I really try hard not to get personal. Debate on the issue as hard as you can, but don’t say that your opponents, people who disagree with you, are scared. It’s been a long time since I’ve been scared.”
If McCain has not been scared in awhile, it is because of the peace of mind that former Alaska Gov. and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin bought him by endorsing him in a contentious Arizona Senate primary in 2010, when McCain was sweating, fearful for his political life.
As the Tea Party movement and anti-incumbent sentiment intensified leading up to the 2010 midterm elections, establishment Republican senators like Utah’s Bob Bennett and Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter had already been defeated in primaries. McCain, whom conservatives have never embraced or trusted, saw the writing on the wall and knew he was an endangered species that could be next.
McCain was so scared of losing statewide in Arizona for the first time that he poured $21 million of his own money into the race and, after dismissing border security and fences while he supported immigration reform with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), filmed an ad near a partly built border fence near Nogales, Arizona. In that ad
, McCain famously said that it was time to “complete the danged fence.”
Even though McCain’s staff and loyalists trashed Palin
after the 2008 election, trying to blame her for their tactical failures, Palin was loyal to the man who put her on the ticket. That loyalty allowed McCain to fend off the challenge of former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who was seen as greater of two evils because of Hayworth’s associations with crony capitalism while he was in Washington.
Since his reelection, though, McCain has given Democrats leverage by becoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) “favorite Republican.”
He has, once again, gone “all-in” on “comprehensive immigration reform” by being a member of the Senate’s Gang of Eight that wrote the immigration bill. He has referred to Tea Party conservatives as “hobbits” and derided Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) as “wacko birds.” And despite former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the Benghazi scandal, McCain even suggested
he could vote for Clinton for president in 2016 in a hypothetical matchup against Rand Paul
By putting Palin on the ticket, McCain ironically empowered the conservative Tea Party movement he has often derided with a transformative leader, who, out of loyalty, preserved his political life in 2010. Not having to face reelection until 2016–if he does not retire before then–McCain, though, has not shown Palin and Tea Partiers who reluctantly did not turn on him in 2010 the same loyalty.