Senator Hothead

Slowly but surely, the "temperament question" is dogging John McCain's presidential campaign.

By Steve Benen

Published April 21, 2008 1:10PM (EDT)

A couple of months ago, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, one of John McCain's conservative Republican colleagues and a man who's worked with McCain for years, raised serious doubts about McCain's temperament. "The thought of him being president sends a cold chill down my spine," Cochran said. "He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

Cochran's hardly alone. A wide variety of Republicans have expressed concerns about McCain's temperament for years, and worries about his temper have even led some military officials to express their concerns about his disposition publicly.

And yet, this has been an issue that's gone largely unreported over the course of the campaign. I was delighted, therefore, to see the Washington Post's front-page story on McCain's "volcanic temper." Many of the anecdotes are familiar, but a few are new. For example, I hadn't heard about how he treated state GOP officials the night he was elected to the Senate.

A platform that had been adequate for taller candidates had not taken into account the needs of the 5-foot-9 McCain, who left the suite and went looking for a man in his early 20s named Robert Wexler, the head of Arizona's Young Republicans, which had helped make arrangements for the evening's celebration. Confronting Wexler in a hotel ballroom, McCain exploded, according to witnesses who included Jon Hinz, then executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. McCain jabbed an index finger in Wexler's chest.

"I told you we needed a stage," he screamed, according to Hinz. "You incompetent little [expletive]. When I tell you to do something, you do it."

Hinz recalls intervening, placing his 6-foot-6 frame between the senator-elect and the young volunteer. "John, this is not the time or place for this," Hinz remembers saying to McCain, who fumed that he hadn't been seen clearly by television viewers. Hinz recollects finally telling McCain: "John, look, I'll follow you out on stage myself next time. I'll make sure everywhere you go there is a milk crate for you to stand on. But this is enough."

McCain spun around on his heels and left. He did not talk to Hinz again for several years.

Reading the well-documented Post article, we not only see a senator who flies off the handle but one whose rage leads him to be spiteful, petty and borderline violent.

Just what the country needs in a leader during a time of war.

Steve Benen

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