Sen. John McCain, American war hero and admired political maverick, as well as presumed Republican nominee for president, had a message for Elisabeth Bumiller, the venerated New York Times reporter, along with the rest of the media assigned to travel with him the week of July 20.
"What do you want, you little jerks?" McCain said to Bumiller and those behind her, as the press surged forward on the "Straight Talk" Boeing 737 on July 21.
No one ever accused the Arizona senator of not being blunt. But he had come a long way from the media-friendly, boyishly charming, brazenly honest, free-wheeling McCain that so many in the media had come to love during the 2000 Republican primary. That man was now gone. Vanished.
Over the past few years McCain had done what was expected of a GOP favorite son. He courted the conservative base of the Republican Party, embracing the evangelical wing while inching closer and closer to President George W. Bush. Moreover, his jabs have stopped being quite so friendly. He'd become curt, even rude. Those images of McCain chatting freely and easily with reporters seemed the narrative of an entirely different person.
"When he ran before he was the maverick running away from the establishment, and now he's running towards it," said Republican campaign consultant Ed Rollins, the national campaign director for Ronald Reagan's 1984 victory, and more recently the national campaign chairman for Mike Huckabee's Republican primary run. "He was jovial and fun and now he comes across as a grumpy old man."
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