Friday, February 15, 2013

When the "Personal" is Party Business

One more quick one on Chuck Hagel. Kevin Drum argues that GOP opposition to Hagel is personal, based on his lack of loyalty to the party: "It's crazy and off the rails, but it's also personal."

I think it's reasonable to suspect that Hagel's turncoat actions made him a target, and I think Drum is right to say that it's been underappreciated (including by me, in my item earlier today). But if it's really exactly that -- what an article Drum quotes from lists as tacit support for Obama over McCain in 2008, and support for Bob Kerrrey over Deb Fischer in last year's Nebraska Senate contest -- then I'm not sure that I'd really say it's personal.

Parties have very strong incentives to enforce partisan loyalty on their elected officials. That's especially true, and difficult, in the US system, with it's decentralized and relatively open nomination system. Basically, it's really hard to punish incumbents when renomination has an enormous incumbency advantage.

Now, given that we're talking about McCain, it's certainly possible that it's purely personal...McCain certainly appears to be acting on personal grudges half the time, regardless of what other incentives are going on. And it's also possible that there are other things in the "personal' column having to do with Republican Senators relationship with Hagel when they were in the Senate together.

But as far as institutional incentives: when you get a chance to punish a disloyal party politician, it makes sense to do so. That's not personal; it's (party) business.

19 comments:

  1. Here's a McCain quote from Political Wire:

    "There's a lot of ill will towards Sen. Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly. At one point, he said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which is nonsense. He was very 'anti 'his own party, and people don't forget that."

    -- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in an interview on Fox News, explaining the GOP backlash against Chuck Hagel.

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    1. Senator McCain takes chutzpah to a new level by lecturing people about the importance of party loyalty when his behavior from 01-03 was largely driven by anger at President Bush for besting him in the 2008 Presidential Campaign.

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    2. Problem with McCain is: his anti-Hagelianism is overdetermined. It's personal, it's party-based (McCain demonstrating his GOP bona fides to his voters), it's personal for McCain himself (guy's a crotchety, small-minded fellow plus he likes the media attention). So much lines up for him here, who's to say what driving it.

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    3. What strikes me about that quote: According to that Nate Silver piece last month that used historian's average ranking of the president, Herbert Hoover was a slightly *better* president than GWB (consensus 35th vs. 38th.) The last president to rank worse than Bush was... Warren Harding, five years earlier, who ranked 41st.

      So if Chuck Hagel really did view GWB as the worst president since that era, according to the average historian, he was essentially correct. Seems like an odd reason to filibuster the man, but then there are several issues in which following the factual consensus will get you in trouble with today's GOP...

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  2. I doubt that the Democrats would have tried to filibuster President McCain's nomination of Joe Lieberman as Secretary of State or Defense.

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  3. In the case of Deb Fischer she gets all sorts of benefits. She gets to push a partisan agenda (even if its logic is spurious). She gets to up her partisan bona fides. She also gets to assert her own ill will towards Hagel. There isn't really any love lost between the NE Republican Party and Hagel. So, this helps her with the local party, too.

    The NEGOP declared him persona non grata years ago. This is perfect for Fischer.

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    1. She had a reputation for a mean streak in the Unicameral, too, so this is in character, if you will.

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  4. OK, but this circus didn't happen to Ray LaHood, Norm Mineta, Bill Cohen, etc. So what's the key difference? I see two: (1) Hagel isn't personally liked or respected enough by the Senate Republicans to keep the public trashing in check, and (2) Republicans perceive a big political upside in presenting themselves as Israel's best friends and Iran's worst enemies, and Hagel's past statements give them sufficient latitude to push that angle--as well as, importantly, provide a cover for punishing his apostasy without it looking like pure partisan revenge (as it would have if they had done this to, say, a John Warner).

    Dave Hopkins

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  5. One other factor - NE is a pretty red state, so the loyalty bar on GOP pols is naturally higher.

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  6. Excellent point, Dave. I have an additional suspicion as well, which I'm sure won't get any ink/electrons at all.

    Hagel was an enlisted man. His sympathies lie with the boots on the ground, and everyone knows it. Everyone also knows that the Pentagon budget is going to be cut pretty severely.

    So who is more worried about continuing to be paid when Hagel is SecDef? The privateers Rumsfeld hired to help out in Iraq? The big money weapons providers here at home? Or the wounded, healing vets who rely on the VA to survive?

    I'm putting this out there because it seems really half-assed to try to annoy and intimidate Hagel, when he'll be deciding which bases to cut.

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  7. I guess it's also quite possible that Obama is simply rewarding Republican disloyalty.

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    1. That's a great point, Couves, and if it were true, I'd like to read more about it, in particular the part about the Republican "crazy" being a front operation; that the 'real' party movers are much more shrewd.

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    2. CSH, I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at.

      I agree with Jonathan's analysis here. I think it's fair to assume that there is a political punishment/reward dynamic playing out. It's not usually so obviously because its power generally enforces discipline so effectively over most politicians. To his credit, Hagel is a man of integrity who wasn't cotrolled by it.

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    3. Obama is rewarding the support given to him by a Republican--that's not the same as disloyalty to the GOP. If Rand Paul or Ron Paul were to leave the GOP, they wouldn't be collecting a senior position from Obama. (I didn't remember about Hagel's support until a commenter elsewhere reminded me.)

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    4. Couves, I think your comment frames the Hagel affair in the context of the perpetual rugby scrum that is contemporary partisan Beltway politics. If (coincidentally) norm-violating, the Republican response is about what you'd expect in such a scrum.

      What's intriguing: while the Republicans may be displaying a certain amount of shrewdness, Obama is arguably displaying more; it appears he may have gained significant proficiency at playing this game.

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    5. Thanks MP, that's an important distinction that escaped me last night.

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    6. CSH, in the Rugby scrum of DC politics, Obama's move seems like it’s calculated to take the Republicans' legs out from under them. Of course as MP points out, we really can't say that for sure. But the fact that it just sort of works out that way is perhaps a sign of political shrewdness on Obama's part.

      Drawing fire from Republicans on the Hegal nomination also encourages non-interventionist voters to steer clear of the GOP, even if he hasn't really given them compelling reasons to embrace his own administration.

      I'm not sure we'll entirely understand Obama's game plan here until we see how things play out in Defense over the next couple of years.

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    7. I think Obama hoped it would be easier for a Republican with a military background to get defense cuts through Congress. It would be easier for opponents to attack, say, Michele Flournoy as someone (a girl, no less) who doesn't understand the consequences of these things, whether it's true or not. (That's not to say they won't attack Hagel, of course. They've certainly shown no reluctance there.) Some of these other points, such as Hagel's past support for Obama, would certainly make him stand out among potential Republican candidates. And if it stirs dissension within the GOP ranks, as Couves suggests, the administration probably wouldn't mind that either.

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  8. Yes and it is pretty bizarre considering how it looks like enough GOP Senators will vote to end closure in 10 days because, well, they want to wait for 10 days. One day before "what mattered this week" I gotta say, it now takes 60 votes in the Senate to become Secretary of Defense. That's huge.

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