Reverting to the role of Republican foil that made him an unpopular figure for many conservatives, John McCain argued on Friday that historical circumstances should compel his GOP colleagues to work closely with Barack Obama.
"There are not many times in history," he said, "that a president has come to office with as many challenges as the president-elect does and that's incumbent then upon all of us to try and do all we can to work with him."
Appearing on Fox News for one of the few times since losing the election, McCain offered a supportive assessments of the president-elect's agenda. He acknowledged the need to pass a stimulus, but said he would reserve judgment until he saw the final package.
"All I can say to you is that I want to see the stimulus package I want to see what it does, I want to see what kind of provision it has in it," he told Neil Cavuto. "I think the president-elect is going to marshal public opinion. Right now his approval ratings and hopes of the American people are very high," he later added.
He also called Obama's national security team "excellent," and saved special praise for CIA Director nominee Leon Panetta.
"I think that Leon Panetta is highly qualified, and in all due respect I think it is not bad from time to time to have somebody from outside of the intelligence community but with strong managerial experience as Chief of Staff of the White House, to be head of one of these agencies. I think there is some good balance there."
McCain said he talked with Obama since the election about foreign policy and domestic matters. Calling those conversations "very cordial," he added, "I want to help the president succeed."
It was the type of interview that would make hard-core partisans shake their heads. Not because McCain was overly effusive in his praise -- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, after all, has said he expects a stimulus bill to pass with wide Republican support -- but because he didn't use the public forum to score any political points for his party.
And, sure enough, in Cavuto's next segment both he and Ann Coulter offered acid-dripped interpretations of the former Republican figurehead's message.
"I had John McCain earlier and he was sort of saying it is our duty now ... to work with the president-elect and presumably support this stimulus measure," Cavuto said. "He seemed to be saying that Republicans could look, you know, like obstructionists if they object to everything that Barack Obama does. What do you make of that?"
"I don't think the Republicans should be taking advice from John McCain," Coulter said. "I don't really know much about what is going on right now because this came out Tuesday, so I don't know the details of the stimulus plan. But I think it is pretty clear from the last election the voters want Republicans to be Republicans."