All signs now point to Hagel’s confirmation next week, so the failure of the opposition campaign is almost complete. It’s worth looking back over the last two months to see how much damage this unnecessary, unprecedented resistance to a Cabinet nominee has caused. There’s no denying that Hagel comes out of the process bruised. The daily smears of his critics have driven up Hagel’s unfavorable numbers, and the entire process will genuinely make it more difficult for him to do his job once he is confirmed. The effort to block him will have some real consequences for the U.S. in the years to come, and these could have been avoided entirely if Senate Republicans had refused to indulge their party’s hard-line ideologues.
Hagel’s opponents in the Senate have made the atmosphere in the Armed Services Committee more poisonous than it needs to be. It remains to be seen what effect that will have on the functioning of the committee in its oversight role. Most Senate Republicans have inflicted far more significant political damage on themselves. Republicans aren’t going to lose any Senate seats over this, but they have come across as petty and unreasonable, neither of which makes it any easier to improve their party’s reputation with former and new voters. They have just spent the last few months validating almost every dissident conservative and realist argument that they can’t be trusted on foreign policy and national security with the views they currently hold, which undermines the chances of credible Republican foreign policy reform in the near future. Regrettably, few things have recently demonstrated how much the GOP needs that reform than the spectacle we’ve been watching for the last two months.
To the extent they have been involved in the opposition effort, Republican and movement conservative leaders and activists have come out of this looking absurd and irrelevant. The anti-Hagel pundits and activists were sure that they could derail Hagel, but all that they managed to do was remind everyone that they are hard-line fanatics that can and should be ignored, and despite this most Senate Republicans still chose to identify with their cause. As Scott McConnell notes, the anti-Hagel effort both confirms and reflects the fact that the national GOP has unfortunately become a joke. As long as its national leaders continue to heed the bad advice of foreign policy hard-liners, it will continue to be one for a long time.