I can only assume he has his eye on a third-party candidacy. The Democratic field is too strong for him to earn a VP nomination on a fusion ticket so he must be thinking Reform Party or maybe of starting one of his own. Or maybe he’s looking for a spot at the Republican primary debates so he can lob anti-war rhetorical grenades at McCain and Giuliani. By the time the serious debates roll around, the success or failure of the surge should be apparent. If it fails, he’ll look like a genius — and, er, the entire conservative base will hate him for it.

Or, just maybe, he’s been hanging around reporters too much lately and is starting to believe their fawning adulation of his mavericky maverickness is part of some phantom grassroots trend. That must be it. Otherwise he wouldn’t possibly be saying stuff like this:

“The president says, ‘I don’t care.’ He’s not accountable anymore,” Hagel says, measuring his words by the syllable and his syllables almost by the letter. “He’s not accountable anymore, which isn’t totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don’t know. It depends how this goes.”

Actually, there is a grassroots trend. It’s just that the grass happens to be located in a state with a socialist senator.

There is some good news for Hagel. A prominent Baptist hinted today that Rudy’s radioactive because of the atomic jerkiness he displayed in dumping Donna Hanover at a press conference. And Ace relays a Radar story about the good ship McCain sinking fast, with aides heading for the lifeboats and St. John himself wondering what the hell happened:

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The Radar thing sounds too bad to be true, but if it is, then Hagel moves right into the slot reserved for the media’s Anointed One. Which should bump him up to 1%.

Rudy had better hope McCain doesn’t drop out. So long as he’s in the race, public attention remains focused on the two of them with Romney as a peripheral candidate. Once one of them sinks, Romney becomes the only viable alternative and suddenly his social con views start to look very attractive to the base. I wouldn’t be surprised if our two moderates focus their attacks on Mitt first in hopes of driving him out and then take their chances with each other. (I’m sure Duncan Hunter, Sam Brownback, and Newt wouldn’t mind either.)

Exit question: To what does Edwards owe his backsliding here? Obamamania or Blunder Twins fallout?

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Update: Someone’s ship might be going down, but I’m not sure it’s McCain’s.

Update: And right on cue, here’s McCain trying to drive Romney out of the race by opening up the California Republican primary to social moderates, i.e., independents.