The after-hours drinks were always on him, and the boozy, privately affable Sen. Joe McCarthy was genuinely surprised whenever rebuffed by indignant reporters. Come on, guys, don't you get it? Mine is a schtick, he'd implicitly concede. I don't really believe all this communists-everywhere crap. It's a game, a little pick-me-up needed for reelection. Come on, it's just politics.
Such was the elastic personality of, some say, America's greatest demagogue. He could turn the bile off or on, depending entirely on circumstances (just as Huey Long would prattle like a Harvard lawyer in the presence of sophisticated colleagues but drawl like an unschooled bumpkin when back in the bayou). And the only ones who didn't "get it" were his true believers and idealistic opponents.
Thus McCarthy's fellow senators got it.
All successful pols have at least a touch of Joe McCarthy in them. But they respect those inviolable if indefinable boundaries of even demagogic decency, to which the spontaneously reckless or excessively clever personality seems insensible. And in the senatorial case of McCarthy, the former met up with the latter in the career-ending form of censure.
Welcome, Ted Cruz, to your future.