The opposition to Chuck Hagel started to be audible from the right almost as soon as his name was floated as a possible candidate for Secretary of Defense, but many of those who are skeptical today offered ample praise for the former Senator from Nebraska not too long ago.
John McCain, who said Monday that he has “serious concerns about positions Senator Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues,” used to be one of Hagel’s biggest fans. In a 2006 interview he said, “I’d be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity,” adding that he thought Hagel would “make a great secretary of state.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who so far is taking a “wait and see” approach on Hagel, used to be a big fan of his colleague. When Hagel announced his retirement from Congress in 2007, McConnell said, “Chuck Hagel is one of the few genuine foreign policy experts in the Senate and an independent, serious voice on many of the most challenging issues we face.” He also called him “one of the premier foreign policy voices… in the United States Senate.”
One of Hagel’s strongest opponents so far has been Senator Lindsey Graham, who was described as “close to Mr. Hagel” as recently as 2007, and who praised him for being “not worried about the political moment” after his decision to oppose the war in Iraq.
Prominent conservative columnist Bill Kristol expressed serious reservations about Hagel leading the Pentagon, but he once considered him an “impressive and attractive” potential pick for vice president. Kristol hasn’t explained how someone can be impressive and attractive as a VP pick but somehow unfit to run the nation’s military.
In all cases, today’s skeptics made their more positive comments about Hagel before he became an Obama supporter, albeit one unwilling to endorse either candidate in 2008.
Republican opposition to Obama’s preferred cabinet members is nothing new, but this may be the first time that so many former supporters of a candidate have suddenly changed their minds.