Monday, January 29, 2007

A Reluctant Rebel's Yell

From Vietnam to Capitol Hill, Chuck Hagel has never been afraid to fight. Now he talks about what could be his biggest battle yet: a run for the White House.

Hagel, who as of late last week was in the final stages of weighing a presidential run, is never mentioned in the top tier of Republican candidates for one, simple reason: since the initial buildup to the war in Iraq, he has assailed the Bush administration's policy—in sharp words, in constant refrain and, most unforgivably, in public. His outburst last week was the culmination of a four-year campaign to raise public outrage about a war he's always considered disastrous. His stance has earned him the enmity of the White House. Asked about Hagel last week in an interview with NEWSWEEK, Vice President Dick Cheney said: "I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: THOU SHALT NOT SPEAK ILL OF A FELLOW REPUBLICAN. But it's very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved."

Cheney, however, doesn't necessarily speak for his party. In the latest NEWSWEEK Poll, only 30 percent of voters approve of Bush's performance as president. Even 31 percent of Republicans think Congress has not done enough to challenge the administration on the war. After the disastrous 2006 midterm elections, Republicans are no longer taking their talking points on Iraq from the White House—several members of Hagel's caucus have suggested they'd support a resolution criticizing the surge when it comes before the Senate this week. Meanwhile, the three leading contenders for the Republican nomination, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, are all vulnerable on the war—all three are in the minority of Americans who support the president's plan. Hagel may be the one Republican who can fully separate the party from the troubled legacy of George W. Bush as the GOP looks to 2008.

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