No matter how tempting it may be, evaluating a cabinet nominee based on his or her detractors is generally not a good idea. That said, it’s hard not to notice the kind of folks lining up to say unpleasant things about Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel.
Take Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example.
“Chuck Hagel served our nation with honor in Vietnam and I congratulate him on this nomination. I have serious concerns about positions Senator Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years, which we will fully consider in the course of his confirmation process before the Senate Armed Services Committee.”
Let’s put aside, at least for now, McCain’s skills when it comes to evaluating officials for high public office (ahem), and instead consider why Hagel’s “positions on a range of critical national security issues” were fine in 2008, when McCain wanted Hagel in his own cabinet, but raise “serious concerns” now. How does McCain explain this? As best as I can tell, he doesn’t.
Similarly, Bill Kristol wanted Hagel for national office on a Republican ticket, but is now helping lead the charge against Hagel’s nomination. Why anyone would take Kristol’s perspective seriously on such matters is itself a bit of a mystery.
But what’s especially interesting is the argument from the right about instigating a larger conflict. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) blamed President Obama for starting “yet another political fight.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Ohio) believes Hagel is an “in-your-face nomination by the president.”
For the record, Dennis Kucinich would be an “in-your-face nomination.” Chuck Hagel is a red-state conservative who regrets that his party has abandoned its realist and pragmatic wings, especially on matters related to national security and foreign policy. There’s a difference.
It’s almost comical, but for Graham, Portman, and others, the toxicity in Washington is once again all Obama’s fault: a Democrat picked a Republican for his cabinet that other Republicans consider insufficiently Republican. Ergo, the president isn’t being deferential enough to what his critics find acceptable.
For what it’s worth, while most Republicans are gearing up to fight Hagel – Ted Cruz of Texas already opposes his nomination, and Marco Rubio of Florida is threatening a hold – former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates both threw their support to Hagel this afternoon.
If you’re thinking Hagel’s nomination is once again going to split the Republican Party along ideological lines, with neocons leading the charge against him and more mainstream GOP figures supporting him, you’re not the only one.