A WaPo reporter describes his press conference this morning as “much anticipated.” Sure — by the media, which is salivating at the thought of an anti-war grenade inside the Republican tent. E.g., this Chicago Tribune blog post, which reads like a Hagel campaign press release. They’ll have to slobber for a bit longer, alas: he’s putting off his decision until later this year.

Why put it off? To give Iraq time to fall apart, probably:

Once it becomes clear this fall that the surge is a failure, veteran Republican strategist Roger Stone says, there will be “the opportunity for a late-blooming anti-war candidacy.”

“There will be a growing plurality of Republicans who believe this war is folly,” said Stone, who officially supports McCain but has been disappointed with the Arizonan’s effort to curry favor with conservatives.

“In New York and Pennsylvania and Southern California, they believe [the war was a mistake]. By 2008 the heartland will believe that, too.”…

“It’s quixotic, no question about it, but all he’s got to do is produce a significant number of votes in Iowa and New Hampshire and the rest will take care of itself,” Stone argued. “The media bump would let him ride an anti-war streak through the rest of the primaries.”

Forget it. Even if Iraq deteriorates, Republicans aren’t about to “reward” the anti-war movement by nominating one of their guys. If they did, conservative turnout for the general election would collapse. I do think Hagel’s presence at the primary debates would be a healthy thing, though, if not for the fact that his candidacy would soak up a hugely disproportionate amount of coverage of the Republican race. Politico recognizes that too:

Even with little grassroots support, his candidacy as a Republican would find a home on the television news. His snappy sound-bites and willingness to harpoon fellow Republicans already make him a television talk-show staple, and a GOP bid premised on opposition to Iraq would only elevate his presence on the tube.

Exit question: if Hagel runs as an independent, which party does he hurt more? I guess it depends on whether the GOP nominates a liberal hawk like Rudy or a conservative hawk like Mitt, huh?