Third-party Hagel: Which side does he hurt more?

Barnett’s popping the champagne on the theory that an anti-war centrist veteran is bound to attract more disgruntled Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents than vice versa. Is he?

There are two things we know about the Democratic nominee: First, he or she will be anti-war. And second, he or she will not be a veteran. Even in their lower tiers, the Democrats don’t have a candidate who served. If they did, that guy would move up to the top tier in a hurry.

The modern Democrats are very fond of their Absolute Moral Authority™ rubbish. Some of them will be drawn to the fact that Hagel can tap this much more effectively than their nominee…

It’s not like he’ll get more than 5% of the vote in any state. But on the war, he’ll be running to the left of the Democratic nominee and with a lot more credibility than the typical lunatic fringe candidate. Hagel could be even more destructive to the Democrats’ chances than Nader was in ’00.

The only way he does the Dems damage, I think, is if Hillary’s the nominee, and even then it won’t have anything to do with his vet status. It’ll be because part of the left considers her too hawkish notwithstanding her recent war criticism and can’t vote for her in good conscience. They’re not going to abandon Obama, the only serious candidate on either side who opposed the war from the beginning, or nutroots hearthrob Silky Pony, who’s worked hard to reposition himself as the most ostentatiously anti-war figure in the race, for a Republican who (like Edwards) voted to invade in 2002. Literally the only reason to vote for Hagel in either of those cases would be because he’s a veteran, but that’s an odd justification for a protest vote in a tight race — essentially protesting Obama’s and Edwards’s lack of service, not any of their positions. Besides, military backgrounds won’t matter nearly as much in war-weary ’08 as they did in ’04, when the left needed to play up Kerry’s to give hawkish independents some reason to trust him to be tougher on terrorism than Bush. The theme of the next election won’t be “tough on terror,” it’ll be “breath of fresh air,” which is why there’s so much excitement around Obama on the left and Fred, for his perceived back-to-basics Reaganism, on the right.

Plus, check this out:


There are a lot of unhappy Republicans in that sample. Dean’s right to say Hagel would top out at 5%, but I’m not as convinced that the lion’s share of that five would come from the left instead of the right. Especially if McCain’s the nominee, which would make the contrast between Hagel and the Republican candidate especially stark given their shared status as vets and the fact that McCain, at his age, represents anything but fresh air. Imagine what the media would do, with the storyline of the surge’s biggest proponent being threatened by the “real” maverick, who dared to represent “brave” anti-war Republicans by breaking away to run as an independent. Rudy and Fred would be better bets to neutralize the Hagel factor, Rudy because he can attract centrists who might otherwise gravitate to Hagel and Fred because he can force a tough choice on anti-war conservatives: a protest vote for a RINO versus a hold-your-nose vote for a pro-war but rock-ribbed Republican. Tough to pass up that latter option. Each of them will still lose votes to him, though, I think.

Exit question: Who’s right, Dean or me?

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