Congressional colleagues were frequent targets of McCai

Part two of a three-part series

WASHINGTON — Questions about John McCain’s temperament arose during his presidential bid in 2000, in which he was defeated for the GOP nomination by then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. 

A page one story in The New York Times on Oct. 25, 1999, first turned McCain’s temper into a campaign issue, according to a 2001 article in The Columbia Journalism Review.

The Times’ story touched off weeks of coverage and debate. An editorial in The Arizona Republic Oct. 31, 1999 added some home state perspective into McCain’s “volcanic temper.” 

“Many Arizonans active in policymaking have been the victim of McCain’s volcanic temper … McCain often insults people and flies off the handle,” the editorial warned.

A Republic reporter was banned from McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” campaign bus for reporting about McCain’s temper. 

McCain, however, never did melt down during what developed into a bitterly tough race. 

This year, The Republic, like Cochran and many of his congressional colleagues, has reassessed the senator. 

In its endorsement of McCain in late January, the paper’s editorial board wrote, “as a candidate who embodies the only characteristics of Ronald Reagan that really matter in these troubled times — personal integrity and commitment to principle — no other candidate comes close.” 

There was no mention of McCain’s anger.

Others have their own McCain-temper stories.

Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer, recalls McCain as “filled with fury” in 2002.

Abrams was representing Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – now the Senate GOP leader – in his challenge to campaign-finance restrictions in legislation co-sponsored by McCain. The McCain-Feingold law was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court. 

But during McConnell’s court appeals challenging the law’s constitutionality, Abrams grilled McCain during depositions in October 2002.

“Let’s put it this way: Senator McCain never raised his voice. But if glares and obvious anger could kill, I wouldn’t be here today,” Abrams said in an interview. “He was very testy, irascible and cross.”

Abrams recalls that McCain’s anger was “a bit more than ordinary.”

“People do get angry when pressed by lawyers, particularly people in power,” said Abrams. “But when I told him he had to play by the rules of federal procedure, and he couldn’t make his own rules, I would say that the level of his reaction to me was quite a bit over the norm.”

“He gave every impression of being filled with fury,” said Abrams. 

Abrams said he has no first-hand knowledge of McCain’s temperament today. He’s supporting another candidate for president.

Reporter Billy House can be reached at or at 1 (202) 662-7673.

Read part 1 | Read part 3

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