The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich has a nine-page (online) profile on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his status as a colorful institution of the Senate.
We’ve pull the best parts.
McCain supposedly winces in private at some of Sarah Palin’s public decisions: Surely McCain regrets the association, right? He is a man of seriousness, someone who becomes emotional when talking about the need for a more aggressive United States presence in Syria. And then Palin hops onto Facebook and quips that the U.S. should just stay out of Syria and “Let Allah sort it out.” People close to him say that he bristles at these things and that he wishes Palin had consulted him about some of the endorsements she has made of Republican primary challengers but that he will never go public with any of his regrets. “Good luck trying to get that out of him,” his daughter Meghan McCain told me, laughing. … He reaffirms his allegiance to Palin, saying that she was unfairly attacked in 2008 and that “the liberal-left feminists” felt threatened by her. “Look, it’s been five years,” McCain says. “Can’t we move on?”
Losing the 2008 presidential election still haunts McCain: Friends of McCain’s say that his loss in ’08, and the ridicule he suffered in the wake of it, was traumatizing in itself. “John has had two defining events in his life,” Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, told me. “The first was his imprisonment, and the second was his failure to win the presidency.”
He has almost completely blacklisted Times reporters: It had been nearly six years since I’d spoken to McCain. The New York Times is not his favorite newspaper, to say the least. The flash point was an article the paper published in February 2008, which some readers took to imply that he’d had an intimate relationship with a Washington lobbyist, Vicki Iseman. Both parties denied a romantic involvement, and Iseman sued The Times. (Iseman ultimately dropped the suit after The Times agreed to print a note to readers saying the story was not intended to imply a romantic relationship.) The report was widely criticized, and McCain distanced himself from the paper’s reporters. “I will never forgive The New York Times for what they did,” McCain told me in October. He agreed to talk to me, he says, because he knew me before “that story” ran. I have a pre-existing condition.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is a serious thorn in his side: McCain is sick of talking about Cruz. “We have a cordial relationship,” he insists, which in the Google translation of political code is something between abject disgust and minimal tolerance. Cruz is an upstart, whose goal seems to be to position himself to run for president in 2016. He appears indifferent to the traditional markers of Senate experience and prestige — passing bills, leading committees, dutifully winning the respect of colleagues. “You know, it’s a funny thing about Cruz,” McCain says, and then stops himself. “No, actually, it’s not funny. It aggravates me more than anything else” — the way Cruz called his fellow Republicans a bunch of wimps and talks about “how we’ve been around too long.”
McCain is delicate: Gestures seem to matter more to him than they used to — things that people say about him, compliments they pay. “For somebody who seems to be gruff, he’s one of the most sensitive people I’ve ever met,” Graham told me of McCain. “In a good way and a bad way.” McCain has many Washington friends — meaning he will promiscuously address people as “my friend” or colleagues as “my good friend from Texas” or whatever. (Cruz, naturally, tells me that he is “proud to count John McCain as a friend.”) But for as social an organism as McCain is, he puts up a forbidding barrier. “There’s no such thing as friends,” he told me. “There’s me and Joe and Lindsey, but it’s rare. I can count on one hand the number of real friends I have, or maybe two hands.”
He gets really into hockey games: The seats are about half filled, and the arena is quiet enough during the game to hear the players shouting to each other. Fans are periodically instructed to howl like Coyotes, which McCain does in the same way he greets Wolf Blitzer.
McCain, 77, is growing fully aware of his age: “He seems to be thinking about his life,” Meghan McCain told me. “He just said to me, ‘I watched an interview with myself on CNN and thought, Who is that old man that’s staring back at me on the TV?’ ” McCain agrees that he is in a reflective mode. His friends are dying off and longtime colleagues are retiring, and he himself is weighing whether to run again. He fears growing too old in the Senate…