Forget the "Straight Talk Express" from John McCain's presidential campaign. U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel blew into Delaware on Monday evening with something like the "Hard Truth Cannonball."
Hagel shook up his fellow Republicans by warning that a Category 5 political season was upon them and they had better prepare, or else the voters would do to them what Katrina did to New Orleans.
"We may be faced with one of those elections where a lot of people go down," he said.
Elected to the Senate from Nebraska in 1996, Hagel officially was here to speak at a private fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the Republican ex-governor who has made a career out of rising above the political floodwaters and clearly does not intend to be swamped this time, either.
Hagel also is part of the vast gene pool of candidates looking at the 2008 presidential race, and Delaware is one of a handful of early states voting right after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary....
When Hagel got down to politics, the crowd was riveted. He explained the threat to the Republican Party in numbers that everyone could understand -- a 32 percent approval rating for Bush that is "dangerously low" and $4-a-gallon gasoline prices that he suspects are on the way.
Republican candidates will be in the crosshairs in 2006 because the party has been in charge of the Congress for 12 years and the White House for six years, and it ought not to count on keeping the presidency in 2008 just because Hillary Rodham Clinton turns off so many people, he said.
"This election is going to be, I think, one of the most defining in modern times. It frames the presidential election for 2008," Hagel said. "We need to reflect a little on our leadership. That analysis is going to be forced on us. That's the way the world works. That's the way politics works."
He predicted these early years of the 21st Century would be as transformational as the time after World War II, but he saw opportunity if the party could produce "clear-headed leadership, very solid leadership."
Otherwise, he said the 2006 election could be 1974 all over again, the Watergate election when Republicans lost in droves, sometimes simply because of a picture showing them with Richard Nixon.
Pete du Pont, who nervously survived the Watergate election to win his third House term, agreed that 2006 had the same feel to it as 1974. "Absolutely it does. I think it's worse than '74, unless the Republican Party gets off its butt," he said.
Worse than 1974? Voters are going to do to the Republican Congress what Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans? Wow, that's pretty damn harsh - so harsh that I have to again wonder at Hagel's motives.
I'd like to believe that Hagel is just a keen political observer calling the election the way he sees it because the American people are fed-up with Republican corruption and incompetence. There's certainly some truth in that, but it's more clear than ever that what's really going on here is Hagel's positioning himself as "the outsider" to take advantage of his party's increasingly-likely losses.
He's right, of course, that the 2006 election will frame the 2008 presidential race, and I hope he's right about more than that. But, keep in mind that there's more than a bit of wishful thinking in Hagel's comments. This is less a warning to his fellow Republicans than it is an act of political finger-crossing.
Pure politician. Pure self-interest. That's our Chuck Hagel, and - for now - I hope he gets exactly what he wants.