‘I NEVER CONSIDERED MYSELF A MAVERICK’…. To say that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) built his most recent persona — the latest in a series — around the notion of being a “maverick” would be a dramatic understatement. The “m” word was practically a verbal tick for McCain — he’d use it constantly, whether it made sense or not, similar to the way Rudy Giuliani would mutter “9/11” at random moments throughout his day.

In 2008, McCain’s television ads described him as “the original maverick.” When McCain and Sarah Palin would routinely take different positions during their national campaign, aides insisted this was to be expected from “a couple of mavericks.” A quick search of McCain’s Senate website turns up several dozen references to the senator being a “maverick” — in some cases, press releases, instead of quoting McCain by name, would simply note, “The Maverick said…” McCain’s website for his Senate campaign does the same thing, using “McCain” and “Maverick” interchangeably, as if they were practically the same word.

The point, of course, was to create a McCain brand, of sorts, characterizing the conservative senator as the kind of politician who doesn’t mind bucking his unpopular party from time to time.

That persona, however, no longer suits McCain’s purposes. So, it’s been scrapped.

Many of the GOP’s most faithful, the kind who vote in primaries despite 115-degree heat, tired long ago of McCain the Maverick, the man who had crossed the aisle to work with Democrats on issues like immigration reform, global warming, and restricting campaign contributions. “Maverick” is a mantle McCain no longer claims; in fact, he now denies he ever was one. “I never considered myself a maverick,” he told me.

I knew McCain was shameless. I knew he had few, if any, core beliefs. I knew he’d abandon any of his so-called principles at a moment’s notice, and flip-flop on every imaginable area of public policy.

But I never thought I’d actually see McCain say, “I never considered myself a maverick.”

It’s as pathetic a political display as anything we’ve seen in quite a while. All of those political reporters who worshiped McCain circa 1999 should probably pause right about now, and appreciate the extent to which they fell for a con.

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.