A ‘MAVERICK’ NO MORE…. The whole point of John McCain’s “maverick” persona was the notion that he’s an unconventional Republican. He doesn’t sound and act like all of those other guys — McCain likes to work across party lines, the theory goes, and bring disparate people together.

Maybe now the political establishment can drop the pretense that this persona still exists.

John McCain has released the first two ads of his 2010 Senate reelection campaign, and he’s got some sharp words for President Obama, possibly the sharpest he’s offered yet.

“President Obama is leading an extreme, left wing crusade to bankrupt America. I stand in his way every day. If I get a bruise or two knocking some sense into heads in Washington, so be it. I’ll keep fighting for jobs and economic growth for Arizona as long as I’m in the Senate,” McCain says in one of them.

“My lot in life has been to wage war against wrong, like today’s massive spend at the worst possible time,” he says in the other. A narrator calls McCain “Arizona’s last line of defense” against Obama’s agenda and says McCain leads the charge against “ridiculously unaffordable ideas like government-run health care.”

By some estimations, McCain’s new ad campaign makes it sound as if fighting against the White House is more important than the Cold War and counter-terrorism.

Substantively, this hyperbole is obviously silly. President Obama is obviously not an extremist; his agenda is not a “left-wing crusade”; he doesn’t want to “bankrupt” the country; and the reform plan has nothing to do with “government-run health care.” No serious person could make any of these arguments with a straight face.

But McCain’s saying these absurd things anyway. Ben Smith had an interesting response to the new message: “A far cry from the old McCain image.”

Quite right. The “maverick” is gone, replaced with just another far-right Republican offering bizarre attacks against the president. It’s a reminder of the tragedy of John McCain.

He, perhaps more than any Republican lawmaker of this generation, had an opportunity to become a giant. The media loved him. The public respected him. His rivals perceived him as a reasonable, honorable man. Over many years, he cultivated a reputation that most politicians would kill for.

In his quest to be president, McCain threw it all away. Offered a chance to reclaim the mantle, and with President Obama extending an outreached hand, McCain has chosen to let the opportunity again pass him by, preferring instead to be little more than a petty, tiresome far-right partisan, undistinguished from his fellow petty, tiresome far-right partisans.

“His political epitaph is going to be dictated by how he conducts himself in next six or 13 years,” John Weaver, formerly one of McCain’s closest advisers, recently said. “Will he be seen as a giant of the Senate who came back from a presidential loss like Scoop Jackson, Robert Taft or Ted Kennedy, or will he go down a different path? Only he can decide it.”

He’s already decided. What a waste.

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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.