McCain: Contender or pretender?

Will a front-runner for 2008 survive the race to get there?

By Tim Grieve
Published January 3, 2007 8:19PM (EST)

If John McCain's support for a troop "surge" in Iraq doesn't cost him dearly as he makes his way to 2008, Todd Purdum's killing-him-with-kindness Vanity Fair profile might.

After spending some time with McCain on the hustings, Purdum acknowledges that the Arizona Republican is "irresistible" in "a thousand and one ways" to anyone who ever "screwed up in school, fell short of expectations, blew his stack, or gave his all to a losing cause." But amid all the talk of McCain as a "palpably, pungently human" politician, Purdum makes it painfully clear that McCain is still a politician anyway -- and one who is going to have a hard time toeing the line he'll need to toe if he hopes to win the Republican nomination for the White House.

It's a must read for anyone who still thinks of McCain as a straight-talking, uncompromising maverick, so we won't spoil all the fun here. Just one money quote from an unnamed former McCain aide: McCain has to "pretend" that his "heart" is in the hot-button issues of the religious right, "and he's not a good enough actor to pull it off."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.