AN UNLIKELY THAW…. Over the course of the last half-decade or so, there were so many “Whatever happened to the old John McCain?” pieces, they were hard to count. Media figures that adored one of the previous personas of the Arizona senator were dismayed to see what had become of one of their favorite politicians.

Those pieces have, thankfully, run their course. Everyone now realizes that McCain circa 1999-2001 no longer exists, and he’s been replaced by the bitter, belligerent senator we saw throwing a tantrum on the Senate floor over gay Americans serving in the military.

My fear is, we may soon see a new push in the media. Instead of figures asking, “Whatever happened to the old John McCain?” we may be confronted with a bunch of “Maybe the old John McCain could come back to us?” pieces.

Today, the Republican senator has an op-ed in the Washington Post, and it’s quite good. Reflecting on this week’s memorial service in his home state, McCain’s piece noted, “President Obama gave a terrific speech Wednesday night. He movingly mourned and honored the victims of Saturday’s senseless atrocity outside Tucson, comforted and inspired the country, and encouraged those of us who have the privilege of serving America…. I disagree with many of the president’s policies, but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country’s cause.”

McCain went on to defend the right, as well, but the graciousness towards the president was uncharacteristic of the cantankerous Republican.

I suppose it was inevitable, then, to see a piece like this one, published today by the Post‘s Dan Balz, “After Tucson, a thaw between Obama and McCain?

Could the long-icy relationship between President Obama and his 2008 presidential opponent, Sen. John McCain, be thawing?

McCain (R-Ariz.) took a significant step toward reconciling with the president in a graceful op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post. If that article marks a genuine fresh beginning, it would be one positive thing to come out of the horrific shooting spree in Tucson eight days ago. […]

It’s possible that Tucson will let the two leaders turn the page. The McCain who comes through in the Post op-ed is the McCain many have known for a long time.

Look, I suppose anything’s possible. I don’t know McCain personally, and I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the tragedy in Tucson shook him in a personal, fundamental way.

But I hope it’s not too terribly cynical of me to dismiss Balz’s optimism as unrealistic. Literally every move we’ve seen from McCain for the last several years suggests that previous persona is gone, and it’s not coming back. He’s angrier, more partisan, more right-wing, more dishonest, and more willing to abandon every meaningful policy position he’s ever taken than ever before.

It’s a nice op-ed McCain had today. It may have been ghost-written, but McCain put his name on it, and I give him credit for his graciousness. But Balz insists that the president “should not let the opportunity pass to reach out to McCain.” The president already has, repeatedly, and has seen his outstretched hand slapped away repeatedly for his trouble.

Those waiting for McCain to revert back, I’m afraid, are likely to be waiting a very long time.

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.