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January 28, 2007
Hagel As The New McCain

The media spent the middle Bush years fawning over the President's former primary rival, John McCain, as a Republican rebel. He garnered so much good press over his disagreements with the administration, as well as his "reform" efforts on campaign finance and political speech, that they often overlooked his hawkishness on the war and his opposition to abortion. They glorified his speeches against the Bush tax cuts and his tough-minded efforts against wasteful government spending -- until it became clear that he would run for President in 2008 and have the unmitigated gall to campaign as a Republican.

Now, however, the media has discovered a new and shiny Republican maverick, and guess what? He's running for President, too!

Chuck Hagel wears pain on his face. The senior senator from Nebraska earned two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, where a mine blew out his eardrums and delivered a sharp burn up the left side of his head. When he is thinking hard, his brow droops low, weighted and weary; when he smiles, his eyes slip into thin slits. His brother Tom calls this Hagel's "running gear"—the thick mask of intensity he shows the world. ...

Viewed from afar, the stuff inside Hagel looks like the stuff that makes Republican presidential candidates. He is a third-generation party member who grew up idolizing Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. He says he was the only student in his Roman Catholic high school to support Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election—and when he cast his first vote, an absentee ballot from Vietnam, it was for Nixon's winning ticket in 1968. His conservative credentials are impeccable: according to Congressional Quarterly, he voted with the White House more times in 2006 than any other senator. He is manly, Middle American—and when he talks about military matters, he exudes the cool confidence of a warrior-statesman who knows that war is hell.

But Hagel, who as of late last week was in the final stages of weighing a presidential run, is never mentioned in the top tier of Republican candidates for one, simple reason: since the initial buildup to the war in Iraq, he has assailed the Bush administration's policy—in sharp words, in constant refrain and, most unforgivably, in public. His outburst last week was the culmination of a four-year campaign to raise public outrage about a war he's always considered disastrous. His stance has earned him the enmity of the White House. Asked about Hagel last week in an interview with NEWSWEEK, Vice President Dick Che-ney said: "I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow republican. But it's very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved."

Ah, yes -- Hagel has been a lifelong Republican of the authentic stripe, only oppressed by the runaway Bush clique, wronged and smeared by the neocons that have taken over the party. Where have I heard that before? Oh, yes, in just about every newspaper and magazine that (formerly) described John McCain's connections to Barry Goldwater.

Hagel makes a more likely media darling than McCain, in any case. Hagel has consistently been a member of the party's more populist wing, not surprising given his home state of Nebraska. In the last two Congresses, Hagel's votes place him on the GOP's liberal flank (109, 13th most liberal, 108 17th). However, he's generally been seen as a supporter of defense initiatives and opposed to abortion, and he also supports opening ANWR for drilling. He gets high marks from the ag industry for his support of subsidies, but spotty marks on Second Amendment issues.

In short, he's an almost perfect replacement for McCain. He's McCain, but against the war -- a candidate on whom the media can shower all of the affection they used to have for McCain.

Can Hagel get elected? Not on your life, and for more reasons than just the war. Hagel, one will remember, initially formed part of McCain's Gang of 14, which kept Bill Frist from pulling the trigger on a rule change that would have wiped out filibusters on judicial nominations. He dropped out at the last minute, along with Arlen Specter. He also gets high marks from supporters of comprehensive immigration reform, a position that will likely win the day in the 110th but will antagonize the voters he needs to reach for primary victories. His only hope would be to win big in Iowa, and then ride that into a big showing in New Hampshire.

I'm actually not a Hagel hater. He has a pretty good record in the Senate over the years, but he has some glaring deficiencies, one of which is a passion to end a war that we can ill afford to lose. Quite frankly, the sudden media love affair makes Hagel look like a grandstander, and given his efforts to form a presidential campaign, somewhat of an opportunist. I've had enough of the meme of McCain as the Republican maverick, and the media attempt to buoy Hagel just looks like a threadbare mechanism for the media to dictate Republican authenticity. Thanks, but I think I'll let the Republicans make that determination.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 28, 2007 10:16 AM

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