What Happened to John McCain?

The maverick Republican once supported repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Why did he shift?

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Only three years ago, Senator John McCain supported repealing don't ask, don't tell. "The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it," he said in 2006. Military leadership has done exactly that. But as DADT appears near repeal, his sudden swing to staunch opposition has many pundits puzzled. Adding to the confusion is his wife and daughter's public support for expanding gay rights. What happened to John McCain?

  • Post-2008 McCain Shifts Right  The Washington Post's Michael Shear suggests that, after losing the 2008 presidential election and facing a rightward-shifting GOP, McCain is giving up his past bipartisan tenor. "Since losing to Obama in the 2008 election, McCain has become a consistent critic of the president. He also has, for the first time in years, a serious primary fight on his hands."
  • Primary Fears, Personal Split, Changed His Mind  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder lays out three theories. "Theory one is that he's worried that [Arizona Republican] J.D. Hayworth will use it against him in the primaries. Theory two is that McCain has come to believe that Gates and Mullen undercut Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus at key moments during the Afghanistan debate. (Buchanan said this theory is absurd.) Theory three is that McCain, who, has, in private, expressed disdain at his party's anti-gay stances, has changed his mind and now has a different view of homosexuality."
  • Distrusts Current Military Leadership, Culture  The Washington Post's Ezra Klein has less sympathetic theories. "The first is that McCain does not count Gates and Mullen as 'the leadership of the military,' which would mean he doesn't believe in civilian control of the military, which would be scary indeed." He adds, "1. McCain has changed his position without telling anybody; or 2. McCain thinks the military is too delicate to handle an infusion of patriotic Americans interested in serving their country during wartime. I'm not sure which makes McCain look worse."
He is so mad that the military is enforcing the policy less strictly without first asking John McCain's permission! He also keeps arguing that everyone in the military loves the policy and wants to keep it and so he is somehow telling the people who are literally in charge of the military that they do not represent the will of the military, unlike John McCain, who has a list of veterans who hate gay people! We must always do whatever veterans want. (Unless the veterans are gay and want to not get kicked out of the military?)
  • He's Just a Hypocrite  Rachel Maddow calls the flip a "collapse of credibility and embarrassing loss of temper." She says, "So, for John McCain, as long as the military leadership is against gay people serving in the military, he wants to defer to their judgment. But if the military leadership is for gay people serving in the military, he thinks the military leadership should defer to him." Video:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.