‘The old-new McCain is back again’

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After yesterday’s Senate deal came together on confirmation votes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) grew emotional extending praise to the one man he credits for bringing the agreement together: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

A month ago, McCain was reportedly annoyed that when it came to immigration reform, he wasn’t getting nearly as much attention as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). A month later, the attention imbalance no longer seems to be a problem – the Washington Post reported today that McCain’s efforts yesterday “cemented the return of the self-proclaimed ‘Maverick McCain.’”

Even Jon Chait is welcoming the shift from the Arizona Republican.

The deal was brokered by John McCain, who undercut McConnell and is fully emerging, yet again, as his old centrist self. Exactly what happened to flip the switch in McCain’s brain from “Obama Hater” back to “McConnell Hater,” it is hard to say. Whatever it is, the old-new McCain is back again, which seems to be a significant development, given Obama’s inability to find any Republicans who aren’t terrified of working with him.

This may be true, and there’s credible evidence that McCain is stepping up in welcome and unexpected ways. In fact, I don’t doubt he’ll appear on several dozen Sunday shows in the very near future to explore this in more depth. But in the meantime, I’m not sure the moderate McCain circa 2001 – the guy who voted against the Bush/Cheney tax cuts because they were too tilted to the rich – is actually back.

To be sure, it’s been heartening to see the Arizonan play a constructive role in the Senate again. He made yesterday’s deal possible; he showed leadership on immigration reform; and he’s denounced his own party’s antics in refusing to compromise on the budget. As recently as two years ago, McCain probably wouldn’t have been inclined to do any of this.

But at this point, it’s not yet clear which version of McCain we’re watching. Yes, I’ll gladly give him credit for doing the right thing on several recent occasions, but the Republican senator also routinely condemns President Obama for not having started more wars in the Middle East, imagines insistently that there was a “cover-up” surrounding the attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, and earlier this year, McCain lost his cool on the air and lashed out at David Gregory, accusing him of being indifferent to the deaths of Americans.

We’ve been here before. The Beltway media’s affection for McCain is the stuff of legend, and every few years, we’re greeted with a fresh round of “Maybe the Maverick is back!” headlines. Usually, those stories are based more on hope than fact, and the cantankerous partisan reemerges.

I recommend caution.

John McCain

'The old-new McCain is back again'

Updated