TOO LATE TO ATONE?…. John Weaver, one of John McCain’s closest friends and confidants, had an interesting quote in the Washington Post today about the Arizona senator.

“If you had told me two years ago that John McCain would end his active national political life perceived by many as the candidate of the special interests tied to lobbyists; that many people considered his campaign dishonorable and focused on small things; that he wasn’t seen as presidential and the right person to have in a crisis; and that the broad center in American politics had turned against him, I would have laughed in your face,” Weaver said. “That’s not who he is. But that’s the campaign that he chose.”

The next question, I suppose, is what, if anything, McCain plans to do about it. Can he radically change his persona, again, and rehabilitate his image and tarnished reputation?

Slate’s Christopher Beam wrote a six-point plan for McCain, which includes giving expansive access to the media, acknowledging and confronting the mistakes he’s made, start looking like a “maverick” again by taking positions unpopular with Republicans, show off his sense of humor, genuinely reaching out to Obama, and ghost writing another book, this one about the campaign.

I suppose Beam’s advice wouldn’t hurt, but it seems most of this can be summarized in one sentence: McCain should re-embrace the persona he adopted after his 2000 campaign. He was popular then, the theory goes, so McCain should go back to it.

Anything’s possible, but a rehabilitation of McCain’s reputation is going to be a lot more difficult than this. For one thing, breaking ranks when Republicans were in charge made it easier to call him a “maverick.” Breaking ranks now that Democrats are ascendant would make him look like an opportunist.

For another, one only gets to metamorphose so many times before it looks ridiculous. If McCain were to give up on his most recent persona, and repair his image with a new one, what would that be, McCain 4.0? 5.0? As Yglesias noted yesterday:

McCain’s not a young man who can learn his lesson and do better next time. In 2000, he ran a high-toned campaign as long as it suited him, and then endorsed the Confederate Flag when he thought that’s what he had to do to win. When he lost, he “atoned.” Then in 2008, he went through the whole rotten cycle again. A man who violates the dictates of his honor whenever it’s convenient, and apologizes for doing so only after his opportunistic gambits fail, is not a man of honor at all.

Perhaps McCain’s best bet is simply pretending the 2004-2008 McCain simply didn’t exist. He could re-embrace progressive taxation, endorse diplomacy with U.S. adversaries, support Roe v. Wade, and thumb his nose at the religious right. If someone asked about the switch, McCain could honestly say, “Why, I’ve believed all of this for years!”

And just so long as one overlooked the last four years, McCain would be right.

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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.