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Chuck Hagel, Anti-Republican Republican

A response to David Boaz.

10:30 AM, Dec 28, 2010 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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David Boaz, at the Cato Institute, objected to my calling former Republican senator Chuck Hagel an “anti-Republican Republican,” last night on Fox.

Chuck Hagel, Anti-Republican Republican

Boaz cites several votes in which then-Senator Hagel supported Bush administration policies and several others where Hagel did not. He also points out that Hagel had a lifetime ACU rating of 84 and good grades from the National Taxpayers Union. He asks: “But would Hayes say it’s not a Republican voting record?”

I would say it’s a fairly mainstream Republican voting record.

But my comments came in the context of a discussion about the possibility that the Obama administration would bring in a prominent Republican as part of staff or cabinet shake-up. So I was more concerned with Hagel’s more recent views of the Republican Party than, say, a vote he cast in 2000. (And, in any case, Hagel’s “conservative” rating from National Journal in 2008 was a 59, putting him in the company of Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter.)

In May 2007, for instance, Hagel argued that a third-party presidential run would be “good for the system.” Then he shared his views on the GOP. “I am not happy with the Republican party today,” he said. “It has drifted from the party of Eisenhower, of Goldwater, of Reagan – the party that I joined. It isn’t the same party. It’s not. It’s been hijacked by a group of single-minded, almost isolationist insulationists, power-projectors…”

Would Boaz say that those comments do not qualify Hagel as an anti-Republican Republican?

During the 2008 campaign, Hagel regularly criticized the Republican Party and praised Barack Obama. The Huffington Post reported that Hagel spent one speech “lavishing praise on the presumptive Democratic candidate and levying major foreign policy criticisms at the GOP nominee and the Republican Party as a whole.” Hagel said he would consider serving as Obama’s running-mate, and when Obama picked Joe Biden instead, Hagel had nothing but praise. “An Obama-Biden ticket is a very impressive and strong team. Biden’s selection is good news for Obama and America.”

In his 2008 book, “America: Our Next Chapter,” Hagel wondered “if Abe Lincoln were alive today, if he would throw up his hands at the whole mess and decide it was time for another party.”

Two weeks after the election, he said that he had had “pretty significant” differences with those in the Republican Party and that most people believe the GOP approach to governing had failed.

I suspect Boaz and I would agree that being an anti-Republican Republican can be a good thing – if, say, more Republicans had opposed their party on corporate welfare and spending over the past thirty years. This wasn’t Hagel’s primary concern.

Last year, Hagel called Republicans “irresponsible” for opposing Obamacare. And in August of this year, Hagel endorsed Democrat Joe Sestak in the Pennsylvania Senate race over libertarian-leaning Republican Pat Toomey.

Boaz neglected to mention any of this. Perhaps he simply didn’t know about it. Perhaps he chose to leave it out because it undermines his argument.

Whatever the case, Boaz apparently has very strong feelings about the issue. He not only takes an ad hominem shot at me, he claims that calling Hagel an anti-Republican Republican is tantamount to “blacklisting.” (As for his cheap shot, I don’t expect that someone as busy as the executive vice president of the Cato Institute would have paid close enough attention to my work to know that I’ve been a regular critic of the Bush administration on transparency, overclassification, overspending, North Korea, Iran, communications strategy, etc. But I would expect that the executive vice president of the Cato Institute, where I turn for much of my information on economic and fiscal policy, wouldn’t make claims about things he doesn’t know.)

But given Hagel’s regular criticism of Republicans over the past three years and given his public flirting with a third party and given his enthusiasm for the Obama-Biden ticket and given his recent endorsement of a big-government Democrat over a small-government Republican in an important Senate race – it’s not only not “blacklisting” to say that Hagel has become anti-Republican Republican, it’s accurate.

And that’s not just my view. It seems to be Hagel’s as well.

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