Bill Kristol's Briar Patch Case for Dems to Dump Hagel

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Feb. 1 2013 3:11 PM

Bill Kristol's Briar Patch Case for Dems to Dump Hagel

I wrote this morning that the anti-Hagelian "Plan A" -- get a Democrat to come out against the guy -- had failed. And then Bill Kristol brushed that dirt off his shoulder and wrote an open letter calling Hagel the modern Harriet Miers -- a dummy who should be junked for someone less offensive.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

There isn’t an intelligent liberal, or for that matter a sentient one, who doesn’t know, after last week’s confirmation hearing, that Chuck Hagel isn’t a first-rate candidate for secretary of defense. He isn’t even a second-rate candidate. Has there ever been a more embarrassing confirmation hearing than Hagel’s for a major cabinet position? For a minor cabinet position? For a sub-cabinet position? We don’t know of one.
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Kristol is right about one thing. The Hagel defenders arguing that he aquitted himself well in the the hearings defy all evidence and belief. I was there, and he stunk up the place. I watched Carl Levin close his eyes with an "oh-god" expression when Hagel muffed a question about Iran. I watched Hagel turn to a friend in the audience during one break and say he'd wished he had copies of some of his good speeches.

But the problem with Miers, from a conservative perspective, was not that she was unimpressive. It was that she was an old (60 years old) candidate for a lifetime appointment, and that she had shown flashes of unacceptable liberalism, like her occasional pro-choice advocacy before she joined the Bush orbit. Her unimpressiveness was the nonideological lever used by Republicans to dump her through a trap door.

Hagel poses no such problems for Democrats. They do not worry, at all, about his prior conservative views on social issues. They know that the major objections to him come because of his anti-Iraq War fulminating and his realist views on Israel. Only 20 members of the 55-member Democratic conference were around for the 2002 Iraq vote, and they either opposed it then or have come to oppose it since. On Israel, they might not agree with him, but they agree with Barney Frank that because "the attack is coming from the right," it would be a liberal "setback" if they bailed on Hagel. One thing that proves it: Bill Kristol wants them to tank Hagel!

That said, I admire the effort that Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk put into his official announcement that he'd oppose Hagel.

During yesterday's confirmation hearing, Senator Hagel instinctively called the Iranian government both elected and legitimate.  He initially offered strong support for containment of Iran, rather than President Obama's stated policy of preventing an Iranian nuclear breakout.

It's written as if Kirk just made up his mind, but nobody believes that. His aide Richard Goldberg (whom I've known for 11 years, full disclosure) has been in close contact with anti-Hagelians, e-mailing them oppo that could hurt the candidate. The Brits have a phrase to describe all this: Too clever by half.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.