The Free Beacon, which has been leading the charge online against his appointment, heard from a source on the Hill yesterday that Hagel might no longer be a frontrunner. Now this, from the AP:

[O]pposition was growing among Senate Republicans who held their weekly, closed-door meeting on Wednesday. Lawmakers harbor real doubts about whether Hagel is sufficiently supportive of Israel, the U.S.’s closest Mideast ally, based on his remarks…

No senator is threatening to block Hagel’s confirmation if it comes before the full Senate despite complaints from outside groups. Democrats have the votes to confirm him and would be reluctant to embarrass and weaken Obama at the start of his second term by joining Republicans to scuttle Hagel, especially after the Rice imbroglio…

Troubling for some lawmakers are Hagel’s comments and actions on Israel, including his reference to the “Jewish lobby” in the United States…

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was elected in 1996, the same year as Hagel, said his comments “on Israel, Hamas and Iran do deserve explanation at a nomination hearing and I’m sure that would happen. He’s well known to many of us, but I think those issues are ones that are likely to come up and should come up.”

Rubio, who’s positioning himself as heir to McCain as leader of the Senate superhawks, is threatening to put a hold on Hagel’s nomination over his opposition to the embargo on Cuba. Kelly Ayotte, who’ll soon succeed Joe Lieberman as the “third amigo” in the McCain/Graham/Lieberman partnership on defense issues, also has “serious” concerns about his appointment. And Jen Rubin’s right that prominent Senate Democrats who could go to bat for Hagel on Israel, like Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have been conspicuously silent in his defense. And suddenly, it’s not just questions about his views on Iran or the “Jewish lobby” or why he couldn’t see fit to sign a letter condemning anti-semitism in Russia when everyone else in the Senate did that’s haunting him. The Free Beacon piece yesterday cited multiple sources who said Hagel was notorious for treating his Senate staffers poorly; David Ignatius followed up on that today by wondering whether he has managerial skills suitable to the Pentagon, although Ignatius seems less concerned about his temperament than his lack of experience. Meanwhile, this afternoon BuzzFeed reported that Hagel once opposed an ambassadorial nominee on grounds that he was “aggressively openly gay,” which has already drawn a statement of concern from at least one gay rights group.

All of that being so, remind me again what Obama gains at this point by nominating this guy. The idea initially was that by appointing a dovish maverick Republican, he’d earn cred with the public for being bipartisan while making it difficult for the Senate GOP to oppose him. If they did, O could turn around and use it as an example of how those darned Republicans are so contrarian and obstructionist that they’d try to fight the White House even when he’s appointing one of their own. But with each new “question” that arises about Hagel, that strategy grows weaker, particularly since some Democrats opposed the idea of nominating a Republican from the beginning. It’s not just an argument about Israel anymore; it’s about whether Obama can’t find a more qualified member of his own party to nominate instead of a less qualified member of the other party who’s on record as being skittish around public officials who are a bit too “aggressively open” about their gayness. The left will line up for him, partly because they have fond memories of Hagel inveighing against the Iraq war and partly because they relish an argument over U.S. support for Israel, but is that enough to hold Senate Democrats together? Why would Obama invite another needless political headache right before the big battles over immigration and gun control? It’d be absurd if he allowed Susan Rice, a loyal Obama deputy, to walk away from a confirmation battle over State while going to the mattresses for a Republican with questionable qualifications at Defense. Especially when he can make history by appointing Michele Flournoy as the first woman SecDef instead.

Update: Add Pat Toomey to the “deep concerns about Hagel” list.