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Senate Republicans Make a Spectacle of Themselves

The bizarre anti-Hagel effort has attached itself to the worst mistakes of the Bush administration.

National Journal reports on the new push for filibustering Hagel’s nomination. This jumped out at me:

Senators such as Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are claiming they are holding up the confirmation because they want more information from the White House on Obama’s actions related to the 9/11 Benghazi attacks, which have nothing to do with Hagel.

That heartens the Hagel camp, which notes that the opposition to him has mostly to do with a lot of old history—primarily, the inability of many Republican senators to admit they might have gotten Iraq wrong—as well as a new insecurity among Republicans who are desperate for a winning issue.

The impressive thing about the anti-Hagel effort is how politically tone-deaf it is. It’s not just that their opposition is misguided, but they stand to gain nothing from it. No one outside of a small core of hard-liners sympathizes with what Senate Republicans are doing. While they may not be losing any votes over this, they are making sure that all of the moderates, independents, and realists that they have alienated over the last ten years will keep running away from them. Except for dedicated partisans, no one can look at the display most Senate Republicans have put on over the last eight weeks and conclude that these people should be in the majority.

Many of Hagel’s most vocal Senate critics right now were elected in the last two elections. For example, Cruz, Ayotte, and Lee have nothing personally at stake in defending the Iraq war or the wisdom of the “surge.” None of them voted to support either of these, and many of them weren’t in the Senate when Hagel was. I might be able to understand the hostility of older members that bear a grudge against Hagel, but the hostility of the new members is much stranger. They are damaging their reputations to defend the legacy of other Republicans’ failures. Partisan loyalty I can understand. It’s the attachment to the worst mistakes of the worst postwar Republican administration that I can’t fathom.

There’s no question that Republicans in Washington are desperate for a winning issue, but Senate Republicans seem to be missing the point that stalling Hagel’s confirmation (which will happen eventually) isn’t a winning issue for them. In the short-term, they will take a justified beating in the press for their ridiculous tactics, and they are ensuring that the GOP continues to be perceived as nothing more than a party of bombastic hard-liners. The entire episode shows them to be hopelessly beholden to people whose foreign policy views have led to disaster for the country and contributed to three major Republican defeats. Another consequence will be that future Republican Cabinet nominees for major posts are now much more likely treated in the same way. That won’t be good for future Republican administrations or the government as a whole. With a few notable exceptions, Senate Republicans are needlessly wounding their party and making a spectacle of themselves in the process.



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