Has the Real John McCain Just Sat Down?

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With a raft of rifts both personal and political, George W. Bush and John McCain would have made lousy running mates and even worse White House roommates. But the marriage of convenience is going great.

"I have offered to do whatever I can," McCain said Thursday in Salinas, the first stop of the pair's joint tour of California and the Northwest. "So I will do whatever the Bush campaign determines I can do most effectively."

That would be to raise money for the Republican apparatus in California (whose 54 electoral votes would seal the election for Bush), which McCain did Thursday night in Stockton. And that would be putting his arm around George W. Bush, who all spring was McCain's greatest enemy aside from Mitch McConnell, and making it look convincing.

And that would be imperiling his own cult status as a political maverick — remember those boos at his keynote gig at the Shadow Convention — in the hopes of collecting enough chits with the GOP establishment to give him some real reforming clout in the next Senate session. But the Nice Talk Express — well, it just doesn't have the same ring.

"Not only do we have a chance" on the West Coast, Bush said Thursday, "we're going to do well, and it's awfully helpful to have John by my side." But can John McCain deliver the McCain voters to Bush if he isn't the same John McCain anymore? He's often likened his upstart presidential run to "catching lightning in a bottle," and, indeed, he seems ready to become an ordinary politician again.

But the air of pragmatism that surrounds McCain now has disappointed more than a few of his formerly ardent fans. McCain himself, it seems, is well aware of this.

"All I can really do is ask the independents to look at Governor Bush," he said. "Independents are independents because they're independent." Used to be McCain was too.