So, which way will he go? In 2000, McCain revolted against the demands of party loyalists and the result was a rather spectacular flameout. I was there when he blew up about Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in the back of his campaign bus before Super Tuesday. He told us that it was part of his job "to stand up and take on the forces of evil," referring to the two men. "I can't steer the Republican Party if those two individuals have the influence that they have on the party today." It was classic McCain: cranky, impetuous, and more honest than anyone in his party was willing to be. Running as he still was in a Republican primary, he had to apologize for his remarks a few days later. When Republicans in South Carolina demanded that he stay out of the debate in their state over whether the flag of the Confederacy should fly above the state capitol, McCain obliged. His position was so tortured, he had to read from a crafted statement he kept in his pocket to keep it straight. The charade ate at him so much that he went back to South Carolina after the campaign to scold himself in public for not saying what he believed: The flag should not fly above the state capitol.
Fortunately for McCain, he doesn't have to win over all the Republicans he alienated last time. He just needs enough to add to his moderates and independents voting in the GOP primaries to lock up the nomination. Still, even that will require a constant and complicated balancing act. I used to think there was no way a second McCain run could be as unpredictable and dramatic as the first one. Watching him tell his party's establishment to stuff it in 2000 was one of the great moments I've watched in politics. But it may be just as exciting to see him try to avoid telling the powers that be where to put it this time around.