RATIONALIZING MCCAIN’S ANGER AND TOUCHINESS…. It was ironic yesterday when John McCain slammed Barack Obama for being “touchy” and “angry.” If the adjectives belong to anyone, it’s John McCain.

Today, Mike Allen reported on a possible explanation.

[W]hat friends call “grumpy McCain” is showing up regularly on the campaign trail, and several top advisers worry that it’s hurting his campaign by making him appear peevish and hunkered down when the country is looking for a larger and more optimistic brand of leadership. […]

A close McCain friend said the reason is clear: McCain is miserable about having to run a campaign that’s antithetical to his persona.

“He is basically having to be somebody that he isn’t,” said the friend, who remains strongly supportive. “He is just not a guy that goes on the attack in public. For him to be on the attack constantly, attacking Obama’s character … McCain is uncomfortable with that, and it’s made him grumpy.”

We’ve heard this quite a bit — McCain knows he’s running an insulting and cynical campaign, and he’s just not comfortable with it. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell recently argued, “John McCain also doesn’t like this kind of politics.” Roger Simon agreed, saying, “McCain really doesn’t like attacking…which is why I think he’s often uncomfortable with his own campaign.”

I see. If McCain runs a positive, issue-oriented campaign, he’s a great guy. If he runs a ridiculous, dishonest, character-assassination-style campaign, he’s still a great guy, and he’s just a reluctant rider on a train falling off the tracks.

Look, McCain knows exactly what he’s doing. He hired Karl Rove’s acolytes to turn McCain’s campaign into exactly the insulting mess we see today. McCain is calling the shots, and if he didn’t like his campaign’s direction — indeed, if it were making him “miserable” — it’s within McCain’s power to change it immediately. He hasn’t, and he won’t.

Even now, there’s a temptation among some to think there’s a “real” McCain, and this isn’t him. For these folks, they can either realize they were suckered by a charlatan, or make excuses for McCain, hoping against hope that the dishonorable candidate we see today is somehow an imposter.

That this sleazy candidate might actually be the “real” McCain is apparently impossible to believe.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.