Chuck Hagel Reaps His Rewardby Kyle Michaelis
One gets a sense that the one thing that could really make Hagel a player in 2008 is a total electoral catastrophe for the Republicans this November. If Bush, the war in Iraq, and the Republican Party's continuing string of ethical lapses leave Republicans in retreat, party leaders and GOP voters might suddenly like the idea of a man who's managed to separate himself from the incredibly unpopular current president while maintaining a voting record that is as partisan as they come.
In other words, Hagel might make for a fine "comfort food" candidate - different in tone, same in substance - around whom Republicans would rally in case of total and utter disaster.
With the Republican Party having now lost Congress and taken a beating in plenty of state houses as well - as President Bush's disapproval reaches record levels and the war in Iraq shows signs of becoming an even greater disaster - it would seem, by the above logic, that Hagel could stand poised to benefit. In fact, that possibility was put forward by columnist David Ignatius in Wednesday's Washington Post:
A month ago the idea that Sen. Chuck Hagel would make a serious run for the Republican presidential nomination would have been a non-starter. As an outspoken critic of President Bush on Iraq and other issues, Hagel's way was blocked. His best hope was nomination by a quixotic third party in an online convention.
It's a measure of the step change brought about by the Nov. 7 elections that Hagel is now seriously exploring a GOP presidential bid. The Republican blowout, he says, reflected a "breakdown of confidence and trust in governance" and opened the way for what he believes will be "the most wide-open presidential race since 1952." The Nebraska senator says he will make a formal decision in the next two months on whether to run.
What would make a Hagel candidacy interesting is that he can claim to have been right about Iraq and other key issues earlier than almost any national politician, Republican or Democratic. Though a Vietnam veteran and a hawk on many national security issues, he had prescient misgivings about the Iraq war -- and, more important, the political courage to express these doubts clearly, at a time when many politicians were running for cover....
[O]utspoken criticisms of Bush policies had put Hagel outside the respectable Republican perimeter -- until Election Day....
It strains credulity to imagine that a GOP controlled by Bush and Karl Rove could learn to love Hagel, but, as the Nebraskan says, this is a time of "transformational politics"....
Will the Bush administration's problems become so severe that Republicans would embrace a senator from the radical center? The very fact that Hagel is mulling a campaign reminds us that American politics turned a corner this month and that we are in new territory.
I understand a columnist's urge to sex-up his material but - wow - that right there is a whole lot of bullshit.
For starters, Ignatius turns a blind eye to the voting record that undermines Hagel's claims of prescience on Iraq. The man deserves credit for speaking out early and often with his concerns, but he has yet to challenge the Bush Administration or its strategy in Iraq with a single vote in the United States Senate. As I wrote this summer, addressing a similar oversight by Arianna Huffington, Hagel is conductor of the All Talk Express.
And, pardon me, but when the hell did Hagel become a member of "the radical center"? I have respect for the man in several regards, but he is not and has never been a centrist, let alone a radical one. He's a conservative Republican who showed little regard for anything but partisanship in Nebraska's 2006 Senate race. Just because Hagel is capable of an independent thought and will speak his mind when politically advantageous can't possibly justify Ignatius' exaggerated praise.
Then, there's this nonsense about Hagel's potential bid for President reflecting some huge change in American politics. This is insultingly idiotic because a)simply running for President doesn't say a damn thing about a candidate's actual appeal and b)Chuck Hagel's been thinking about this race for a long damn time. The country may have turned a corner in this year's elections, but the "new territory" Ignatius is writing from is La-La Land if he finds any deep meaning in talk of Hagel for President when, so far, talk is all there is.
Still, you have to give Hagel credit - he's been effective at winning attention from the national media even if that hasn't yet translated into grassroots support (not even in Nebraska, where only 37% of voters think Hagel would be a good president). From cover stories in New York Times Magazine last February to a headline-making column calling for withdrawal from Iraq in Sunday's Washington Post, some high-powered players clearly think Hagel belongs on the national stage. He's been given a chance. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, he's able to do with it.