ARIZONA NEWS

Why was Sen. John McCain known as a ‘maverick?’

Aug 25, 2018, 5:44 PM | Updated: 8:50 pm
Senate Armed Services chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks during a hearing on 'Recent United...
Senate Armed Services chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks during a hearing on 'Recent United States Navy Incidents at Sea', Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. John McCain died of brain cancer at age 81 on Saturday evening.

During his more than three decades serving in the U.S. Congress, McCain was famously — or infamously, however you choose look at it — dubbed a “maverick.”

But what did it mean to be a “maverick”? Specifically, what did it mean for McCain to be a maverick and why did he have the nickname all these years?

McCain was called a maverick by the media during instances when he would break from his own party, most notably during his 2000 and 2008 presidential runs.

But the media, not McCain’s voting record or stance on various issues, was more influential in creating 2008 Republican presidential nominee’s maverick persona.

McCain was first dubbed a maverick by Mark Salter, the former senator’s longtime aide and co-author of several of his memoirs, in the 1990s, according to a 2008 article from Boston.com.

Salter created the persona through nearly two decades of working alongside McCain, turning his boss into a “character worthy of literature, enlivening his inner conflicts and drawing out his motivations,” the publication wrote.

“McCain was first elected to Congress as a war hero beneath the slogan ‘a name Arizonans are talking about,'” according to Boston.com. “But it was Salter who found in McCain’s life journey something greater: the organizing principle for a distinctive public identity.”

The maverick theme was essential to McCain’s public persona, the publication wrote, developing the war veteran into a character who “[discovered] individual purpose through a ’cause greater than self-interest.'”

But in terms of acting like a maverick, McCain often fell short.

According to FiveThirtyEight, McCain was a “fairly reliable Republican vote” during his time in the Senate. From 1987 to 2015, McCain voted alone party lines 87 percent of the time, compared to the median senator of that period, who voted along party lines 91 percent of the time.

But, according to the publication, “it would be a mistake to label McCain just another down-the-line Republican.”

McCain’s Senate votes “have been more difficult to characterize” since he first ran for president in 2000.

The senior senator hit his “most maverick-y” point from 2001 to 2006, when he only voted with his party 79 percent of the time.

He also kept that reputation going late into his career, such as when he doomed the Republicans’ so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act with a dramatic thumbs-down in July 2017.

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Why was Sen. John McCain known as a ‘maverick?’