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Standing behind a lectern in Michigan this week, with two trusted senators ready to do his bidding, John McCain seemed to forget for a moment that he was only running for president.

Asked about his tough rhetoric on the ongoing conflict in Georgia, McCain began: “If I may be so bold, there was another president . . .”

He caught himself and started again: “At one time, there was a president named Ronald Reagan who spoke very strongly about America’s advocacy for democracy and freedom.”

I am curious how this interlude in the campaign ends up playing. McCain’s stance on this issue shows him to be close to certifiable — not only on specific policy points but also in what I guess I would call affect. But it’s not lost on me that people without much background on what actually happened might think this shows him at his strongest, best, etc. On the other hand, he really has gone considerably beyond what’s ever been considered appropriate or acceptable for a presidential candidate. He’s worked at fairly evident cross-purposes with the president of his own party. He’s been in several times a day phone contact with one of the key players in the drama. He’s dispatching his own faux diplomatic delegations to the scene. Probably it’s all too much inside baseball to register with anyone who’s not already watching closely and decided. But who knows?

Late Update: On the other hand, the Times gets wobbly in the knees over McCain flexing his credentials.

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