WASHINGTON — Senator John McCain’s campaigns have long been defined by internal squabbling and power plays, zigzagging lines of command and a penchant by the candidate for consulting with former advisers without alerting current ones, always a recipe for disquiet.
After a period of relative calm on that score, it is becoming clear that his campaign is once again a swirl of competing spheres of influence, clusters of friends, consultants and media advisers who represent a matrix of clashing ambitions and festering feuds. The cast includes the surviving members of Mr. McCain’s 2000 campaign, led by Rick Davis and Mark Salter; a new camp out of the world of Karl Rove, led by the recently ascendant Steve Schmidt; and on the periphery, the ever-present Mike Murphy, Mr. McCain’s strategist in the 2000 presidential race who has been dispensing advice to the candidate to the annoyance of the other camps, and is the subject of intensifying rumors in Republican circles that he is about to re-enter the campaign.
Mr. McCain is uncomfortable firing people or banishing them entirely. His orbit remains filled with people who have been demoted without being told they are being demoted, like Mr. Davis, who continues to hold the title of campaign manager even as Mr. Schmidt manages the campaign. Yet, Mr. McCain inspires uncommon loyalty in those who serve with him — hence the willingness of Mr. Murphy to consider coming back into the McCain campaign, despite his own rather brutal history of enmity with Mr. Davis.