‘You Stick to What You Believe In’

John McCain Has gone to battle many times: in Vietnam, in the Senate and on the campaign trail. But in an interview with NEWSWEEK's Evan Thomas and Holly Bailey, McCain left the impression that he'd rather be involved in reconstruction efforts. Fresh off a big win in Florida—and an endorsement from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—McCain spoke about controlling his temper, broadening the Republican Party and reaching across the aisle. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: You have quite the military tradition in your family. Your father and grandfather were admirals. What does that mean to you?
McCain:
We were proud to serve, but I don't think that any of us who encountered war think that it's anything but the worst thing, or the next to worst thing.

We wrote last year that you were ahead in the polls and you didn't seem entirely happy about it. It suited you better to do the maverick thing. Now you're the front runner again.
I think that it wasn't so much my attitude; it was the issue of immigration, to some degree. It was an issue that struck a very emotional chord with many Americans and I think it hurt us politically. And also at the time I strongly supported the surge, which even amongst Republicans was not very popular. People were looking for the exit sign. So I think it was more the issues as much as it was me.

You've been accused, at times, of being short-tempered.
I [have] had strong disagreement with appropriators from time to time on issues—of course I have. But you don't get the support of Trent Lott and John Thune and Lindsey Graham … if they don't respect you. That's really what the Senate is about, not friendship. And of course, from time to time, I've had strong disagreements. Was I angry when I saw the abuse that [Jack] Abramoff committed and his friends and members in Congress? Of course I was. If I wasn't angry then I had no business being there … All I can say is I've had a record of reaching across the aisle. I'll match my legislative accomplishments with anybody. You can't accomplish that unless you have a working relationship with your colleagues.

Do you have to consciously work on your temper?
Sure, every day you try to improve your conduct. I am a man of many failings. I make no bones about that. That's why I'm such a believer in redemption and forgiveness.

Should it make us worry about your leadership ability that your own campaign had a meltdown?
There are always difficulties in campaigns, and the successful campaigns are the ones that fix the problems … I would hope that one of the lessons from this campaign is that you stick to what you believe in, you tell people the truth, you outcampaign your opponents, and even when you go through some very difficult times, you are steadfast.

What do you do about the conservatives who still don't like you?
I've just got to continue to send the message that I believe in a big-tent party, and that the major concern that conservatives have is the threat of radical Islamic extremism, and that I'm best-qualified to keep the nation safe. We all need to join together and unite as we meet the challenge of November.

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