Chuck Hagel, center, R-Neb, and John McCain, right, R-Ariz, share a laugh on the Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004 in Washington.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

On Hagel, McCain struggles to make up his mind

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has changed his mind quite a few times when it comes to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Back in 2008, McCain not only liked Hagel, the Arizona Republican said he’d like to see Hagel join the cabinet in a McCain administration. Five years later, when President Obama nominated Hagel for his own cabinet, McCain joined an unprecedented filibuster against Hagel – even after McCain had promised not to.
Over the summer, McCain went so far as to call for the president to replace his entire national security team, which would presumably include Hagel’s ouster.
But now that Obama has accepted the resignation of the Defense Secretary that McCain didn’t want at the Pentagon anyway, the Arizona senator is outraged all over again. Dave Weigel reported this morning that McCain appeared on a radio show this morning to push back “at the idea that Hagel was incompetent, or that he was the problem with the administration.”
The incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee ticked off the crisis regions around the globe, from the ISIS-occupied sections of the Levant to China, and reiterated that Hagel was a good man who could not fix an Obama policy that was blundering and making the country weaker.
“Believe me,” said McCain, “[Hagel] was up to the job.”
Maybe, maybe not, but it was McCain who said pretty much the exact opposite about Hagel’s abilities two years ago, and it was McCain who wanted to see Hagel step down from the Pentagon five months ago.
So what’s going on here?
For Republicans in general, they have two clear choices about how to respond to Hagel’s resignation. The obvious path is to say, “We told you so.” Early last year, GOP senators and their allies invested considerable energy in trying to tear Hagel down, insisting he was incompetent and incapable. Now that he’s lost the president’s confidence, Republicans have arguably earned the right to crow a little.
But the irony is, McCain doesn’t want to say, “I was right.” On the contrary, he’s effectively arguing, “Never mind what I said before, I’m now outraged all over again.”
Or put another way, John McCain doesn’t want to be correct; he wants to be furious with President Obama.