When Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi talked about John McCain in January, he didn't merely violate the GOP's 11th commandment; he spat on it. Cochran, rejecting Ronald Reagan's counsel not to speak ill of a fellow Republican, told the Boston Globe the idea of McCain as president "sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper, and he worries me." Cochran has clashed famously with McCain over appropriations. But infighting is not new for the man waiting to be crowned the GOP presidential nominee. For reasons of substance and style, during his 25 years in Congress, McCain has amassed a slew of enemies, but now, many are coming around—or lying low.
McCain is nothing if not a maverick. He has irritated GOP leaders, who couldn't count on his vote. He's worked hand in hand with Democrats on legislation—and, after his presidential run collapsed in 2000, reportedly toyed with leaving the Republican tent. By 2004, there was talk of him sharing the ticket with John Kerry. In addition, while he can exude charm, he can get in your face, too, and that explosive side—and sailor's tongue—cause trouble.
McCain was not Cochran's first choice for president (that was Fred Thompson) nor his second (Mitt Romney). But after the two men quit the race, Cochran picked up the phone to join the Arizona senator's team. "I think we're all encouraged that we may have a winner on our hands here," Cochran says. "We're all being nicer to him now. He's rising to a new level of leadership in our party and in our country, and he's due our respect."
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the GOP's No. 3 man in the chamber until he lost re-election in 2006 and a strong social conservative, can be counted as an old foe. He ticks off the issues on which McCain has strayed—among them campaign finance reform, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and embryonic stem cell research. Santorum plans to vote for the man he calls "a friend . . . but not by any stretch of the imagination a close friend"; however, he's not sure his fellow social conservatives will help efforts to get out the vote.
One McCain ally, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, says it's the appropriators who often have crossed swords with McCain. Santorum agrees, saying: "Ted Stevens [of Alaska], Cochran, [Sen. Pete] Domenici—you can go down the list."
Others note that campaign finance reform, which McCain championed with Democrat Russ Feingold, makes him a thorn in the side of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McCain's temper is also something that spawns enemies. In 1997, Washingtonian magazine dubbed him "Senator Hothead." Today, it's a touchy subject; the rare lawmaker who will venture an opinion—Cochran is one—insists McCain has matured.
Years ago, McCain insulted GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa by calling him "f - - - - - - jerk" during a hearing on POWs and MIAs. The two didn't speak for many months. Now, Grassley backs McCain and even cut him a $5,000 check.
McCain also has had fighting words for Domenici. Once during a spat over the federal budget, McCain called the New Mexico senator an "asshole." Domenici, too, is now on board.
Last spring, McCain shouted "F - - - you" to GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas during negotiations on immigration reform. Still, Cornyn skipped a day of votes in late February to stump with McCain before that state's primary.
Insiders say McCain apologizes, but bruised feelings can persist. Still, many of these onetime enemies are putting aside hurt feelings for the sake of the party.
McCain's team sounds weary of the topic. "McCain is a passionate person who has on occasion had some spirited debates," says Jill Hazelbaker, a spokeswoman.
Party faithful. Outside the Capitol, McCain has also ruffled feathers. One leading conserva-tive, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, was a vocal enemy of McCain, slamming him in 2005 as a "gun-grabbing, tax-increasing Bolshevik." But now, Norquist says McCain's desire to extend the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 means he's behind him. "There are always reasons to criticize a candidate," Norquist says. "But if you have 30 seconds to talk about McCain, do you say he's good on tax policy or do you complain about McCain-Feingold?"
Aside from Norquist, it's unclear how robust his support will be among other Republican influentials like Rush Limbaugh, who, day after day, wielded a buzz saw on McCain just as the other Republicans were quitting the presidential race. Lately, the king of conservative talk has been urging listeners to prolong the nasty nomination fight on the Democratic side by crossing over to vote for Hillary Clinton in the primaries.