The Conversation

Republicans need to work on their hardball political strategies

Watching the Chuck Hagel drama is a sobering reminder that Republicans still aren't very good at playing hardball politics.  Their strategy is to use the Hagel nomination as soapbox to focus attention on a worthy, but unrelated, issue - namely the Benghazi debacle.  The GOP Senate leadership doesn't think it has the votes to actually sink Hagel, even though many of them do have deep and legitimate concerns about his fitness for office.  The Democrats hold a majority, and their partisan loyalty to Obama is rigid and absolute; as long as Obama insists on Hagel, they would not be much moved by video of the nominee dancing in the streets with Palestinians while rockets rained down on Israeli civilians, never mind intemperate comments about "Israeli apartheid" at college lectures.

The problem is that Republicans actually say all this in public, giving sound bites to hostile reporters.  They're like a football team that broadcasts its locker-room strategy sessions before each quarter.  John McCain went on "Meet the Press" last weekend and said, using almost these literal words, that Hagel's a lousy nominee, but he's my friend and a former Senate colleague and we know we can't stop him anyway, so we're going to drag this out just to give us some more time to yell about Benghazi.  Then he yelled at David Gregory and asked why he doesn't care about the deaths of four brave Americans.  And when Gregory asked exactly what he thinks Obama is covering up with regard to that bloody debacle, McCain muttered something about sending him a list of questions later.

This is not how the Democrats would do it.  They'd turn opposition to Hagel into an absolute moral crusade.  They would never admit in public that they're not really serious about stopping him; he'd be the Worst Person in the World.  They'd probably be marching Jewish children onto the stage to serve as human props while they held press conferences to denounce him.  They wouldn't be worried about going so far overboard that they couldn't justify voting for him after striking a deal with the President on unrelated issues (among other things, they'd be able to count on the press to refrain from loud complaints about their hypocrisy.)  

Maybe they'd go ahead with the symbolic but ineffective mass protest vote, and spend the next few years making the President pay a low but steady political price for the nomination.  They would find a way to artfully work their unrelated major issue into the conversation, i.e. "The same Administration that didn't care about protecting its ambassador in a terrorist hot zone is also trying to install a Defense Secretary who doesn't care about the security of our loyal friends in Israel!"

And they would privately signal the Administration that they expected a scalp or two over the unrelated issue, if it wanted to avoid paying that low but steady political price.

Sincerity cuts a lot of ice with voters, and as the old saying goes, if you don't have it, you've got to learn to fake it.  Look at the tearful sincerity Obama uses to push his ludicrous sequestration crap; he's up there sobbing in front of his human-prop firefighters over a scourge he insisted on.  And he's telling the American people that a 3 percent cut in his bloated government means there won't be ambulances to rescue them from deadly injuries.  It's eye-rolling madness to anyone who knows the real score... but it appears heartfelt to the Low-Information Voters.  You'll never see Obama or his surrogates pulling a John McCain and going on a round-table show to admit that he doesn't really mean any of it, and just wants to squeeze another tax increase out of the private sector.



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