The Strain on McCain

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008; 5:45 PM

DENVER, Aug. 28 -- When I went out with John McCain's campaign a few weeks ago, I had the distinct impression that he wasn't having that much fun.

McCain had always struck me as a happy warrior, never more in his element than in his constant bus-ride banter with reporters. That was gone now, as his campaign made the strategic decision that schmoozing with the press was too risky and he needed to stay on message. But as McCain made his speeches and did his local interviews, he seemed to me to be slightly testy and chafing under the new message discipline. The only time he appeared to be relaxed and funny was at one of his signature town hall meetings.

I bring this up because of an interview published today in which the senator from Arizona clearly was getting annoyed with his media inquisitors. Here's a guy long accused of being too cozy with his "base," as he's jokingly called the media, and a Time cover-story interview in advance of his big moment in St. Paul didn't turn out all that well:

"McCain at first seemed happy enough to do the interview. But his mood quickly soured. The McCain on display in the 24-minute interview was prickly, at times abrasive, and determined not to stray off message. An excerpt:

" What do you want voters to know coming out of the Republican Convention -- about you, about your candidacy?

"I'm prepared to be president of the United States, and I'll put my country first.

" There's a theme that recurs in your books and your speeches, both about putting country first but also about honor. I wonder if you could define honor for us?

"Read it in my books.

" I've read your books.

"No, I'm not going to define it.

" But honor in politics?

"I defined it in five books. Read my books.

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