John McCain Defeated, Humiliated By Arizona's GOP

While the national press corps fawned over McCain for the past two years, they ignored the conservative backlash brewing against him in his home state.
02/15/2007 11:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

"[John] McCain is mentally unstable and vindictive and out of control."
--Arizona Republican state commiteeman Rob Haney

While the national press corps fawned over John McCain for the past two years, they ignored the conservative backlash brewing against him in his home state. In the latest issue of the Nation, I report on the crushing losses McCain and his allies have suffered at the hands of the restive Republican grassroots in Arizona. (I'll be following this saga throughout the '08 campaign on my blog,

In 2005 in Arizona's Maricopa County, encompassing Phoenix and Scottsdale (where Barry Goldwater once lived), a gathering of state GOP committee members introduced and overwhelmingly approved resolutions censuring McCain for "dereliction of his duties and responsibilities as a representative of the citizens of Arizona." They did so despite the personal pleas of the chiefs of staff of McCain and Arizona junior Sen. John Kyl.

Notorious for his mercurial personality, McCain responded harshly. Last fall, he organized a slate of candidates to oust his conservative critics from their state committee posts. McCain's slate was formidable and well funded. It included former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington, an old friend he coaxed out of retirement to fulfill his revenge plot. So worried was McCain about being rebuked by his own party that he threw his own hat into the race, announcing that he himself would run for state committeeman.

When the votes were counted, McCain and his entire slate were resoundingly defeated. Despite endorsements from virtually every Republican member of Arizona's Congressional delegation, Symington, who had never lost a race in his life, was crushed--as was McCain. Adding insult to injury, in January another key McCain ally, Republican political consultant Lisa James, was defeated for state GOP committee chair by Randy Pullen, a prominent McCain critic and anti-immigrant activist.

The architect of the Arizona GOP's mutiny against McCain, a former IBM middle manager and state committeeman named Rob Haney, was bemused by McCain's ham-handed response to his censure resolutions. "This just shows that McCain is mentally unstable and out of control and vindictive," Haney told me. "If he is determined to go through that much trouble to attack a district committee chairman, what does that say about his ability to handle real political problems?"

Indeed, McCain's penchant for vindictive plots and angry reprisals casts doubt on his ability to negotiate the complex crises that inevitably confront any American president. In the near term, his rejection by the right-wing in his home state undermines his efforts to make himself acceptable to socially conservative Republican primary voters.

McCain's image makeover continues on February 23, when he will speak at the Discovery Institute, the right-wing think tank that has attempted to introduce into public school biology classes the teaching of Intelligent Design. But back in Arizona, the Republican grassroots aren't buying his ploys. "The guy has no core, his only principle is winning the presidency," Haney said of McCain. "He likes to call his campaign the 'straight talk express.' Well, down here we call it the 'forked tongue express.'"