NE-Sen: RedState - This Isn't Like Lieberman At All!

"We did not abandon Chuck Hagel. He abandoned us."

And so it begins. The opening shots in the right-wing blogosphere's "Lieberman moment." I've spent a lot of time on the similarities between this race and Lieberman/Lamont (as well as some of the differences.) But you have to wonder if the right-wingers see it this way.

Well, maybe not. Venture with me into enemy territory, after the flip...

There's more...

NE-Sen: The "Anti-Hagel" and The Democrats

From the diaries, jerome

This race has been and will continue to be my singular political focus for the foreseeable future. It's a fascinating look into the mindset of the Republican Party, with all the ingredients of a really nasty primary battle the likes of which this state hasn't seen in some time.

Well... almost all of the ingredients. See, Nebraska Attorney General has announced a primary challenge to Chuck Hagel - without any real indication that Hagel is actually running. He's positioning himself as the anti-Hagel in a race that Hagel might not even participate in.

Where it goes from here is anyone's guess. I predicted shortly after Bruning's March announcement that he was establishing an exploratory committee that Bruning was not interested in waiting for Hagel's decision. He would challenge Hagel, when the time was right. And, by doing so, he would expose a major divide within the Republican Party between the Hagel wing of the party and the anti-Hagel wing.

It goes beyond Hagel's politics - though that is Bruning's opening to run. It really is about Hagel's hold on the Republican Party. He may have lost it, already, as more and more Nebraska Republicans are openly distancing themselves from Chuck Hagel. He's quite publicly positioning himself as an independent - something that clearly isn't going to sit well with Republican Primary voters. So, Bruning's strategy is clear: to beat Chuck Hagel, he's going to position himself as Hagel's primary challenger. If Hagel drops out, Bruning will declare victory - claiming that his challenge pushed Hagel out of the race.

The longer Hagel waits to get into the race, the weaker his position will be. Bruning's already starting out in a very strong position for a challenger - his internal polling shows him with a 9% lead. And it's doubtful that Hagel's actions over the last three months have done anything to win over Republican voters.

A lot can change in eleven months, but at this point it's likely that Jon Bruning will be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Nebraska. That is, quite frankly, frightening. Many of you will recall Ben Nelson's opponent in the 2006 race, a self-funding candidate named Pete Ricketts. But while the odious amounts of money Ricketts poured into his own campaign were disturbing, the most troubling aspect of Ricketts' campaign was his total lack of political morals. His complete disconnect from reality. Ricketts suggested, with a straight face, that Ben Nelson was a liberal like Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. Not surprisingly, the message of "I'm a Republican, vote for me!" didn't resonate very well among Nebraskans who had a good sense of the kind of Senator Ben Nelson was.

Jon Bruning running for Senate should be a joke. Just over a decade ago, Bruning was a young law student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, writing articles praising Hillary Clinton and blasting conservatives for the Daily Nebraskan. (One particularly ironic article was titled "Conservatives, Come Out Of The Closet.") Now he's running as the champion of conservative values. This is a picture of a man with no political morals, no conviction other than the overwhelming desire to get elected.

He's also a political lightweight who has never been significantly challenged in any race he's ever been in. He's going to be in for a rude awakening when Hagel blasts him, but getting criticized by Chuck Hagel may actually help Bruning make his case. We need a Democrat who can make this a clear choice.

Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey has been a favorite of mine to run for Senate, but he seems more interested in running for a third term as mayor. I could still be wrong on this, but the entry of Kerrey into the discussion suggests that Fahey is losing interest in what would be a fierce battle, and Kerrey's stepping in to make sure we have a credible challenger. If Kerrey runs, Fahey won't. If Fahey runs, Kerrey won't. That much I know.

Scott Kleeb is a favorite of the netroots, but I've got to be honest, folks: we can't let Adrian Smith go unchallenged. He's an embarrassment to this state and his district. Kleeb is the only candidate who can beat Adrian Smith.

Bob Kerrey approached his former campaign manager (and the manager of both of Ben Nelson's and Mike Fahey's successful campaigns) to put some polling out in the field two months ago. Rumor has it the poll looked very good for Kerrey. Since then, he agreed to be the keynote speaker at the Nebraska Democratic Party's annual Morrison-Exon Dinner. Whatever his plans, it seems clear that Kerrey is not content to sit on the sidelines any longer. Though, like Fahey, he has promised to sit out if Hagel runs, a lot of the signs are pointing to Bob Kerrey being the Democratic candidate for Senate in '08.

Now, this isn't going to come as terrific news to many of you. We're still stinging from the recent supplemental bill, and Kerrey just recently penned an editorial blasting liberals on Iraq. But look past it for a moment. Bob Kerrey may be exactly what we need to take this seat back.

You'd be wrong to call Kerrey a "spineless" Democrat or a Lieberman clone. He speaks his mind quite freely, and he certainly has no love for the Bush administration. It'd be wrong to demand absolute party loyalty, especially from a Senator from Nebraska. I'm not a fan of the tone or the content of Kerrey's Iraq stance. But I'm not about to dismiss him as a candidate because of it.

Kerrey would school Jon Bruning, a political lightweight with no moral center and no beliefs. Bruning will haul out the charges of Kerrey being a "carpetbagger," which will be a joke by that point, as Bruning has already used that language to describe Chuck Hagel. Kerrey is one Nebraska Democrat who knows the art of a political smackdown, and that's precisely what we need against Jon Bruning.

In 2006, the choice was clear between a Democrat who had clearly and strongly represented the people of Nebraska, a Democrat who won 3 statewide elections; and a Republican who ran his campaign on the sole fact that he would be a Republican and Bush loyalist. Jon Bruning wishes to be the latter in this race. Bob Kerrey is the former. If we want to draw a clear distinction between the parties in this state, if we want to remind Nebraskans why the Democratic Party represents them better than the Republican Party, we need only to put Bob Kerrey up against Jon Bruning, and watch the rest fall into place.

Bob Kerrey for Senate? Jim Esch for Congress in NE-02? And Scott Kleeb for Congress in NE-03? That's a ticket I'd be proud to support.

Ah!!! A Lamont-Style Purge!!

I'll just follow up on my earlier post on Chuck Hagel's right-wing primary challenge by pointing you to a bunch of quotes assembled by Ned Lamont blogger tparty on how the establishment reacted to Lieberman.  Just Google 'Lieberman purge' and you'll find 201,000 entries.  Googling 'Lieberman purge Stalinist' alone brings up 33,400 entries.

I happen like this one, by Al From. titled 'The Return of Liberal Fundamentalism'.  Or this one, from the Bull Moose Blog.

It is not the goal of the left to prevail, but rather to purify. That is what the Lieberman Purge Attempt is all about. Actually, this is very much an ideological movement that is driven by a neo-isolationist,, Pat Buchanan-lite imperative to rid the Democratic Party of the centrist hawks.

If you want a fun little research project, do some searching and reread some of the coverage of Lamont's challenge.  It's pretty easy to find quotes talking about the left's Stalinist purge of Lieberman.  

The point is simple - if the establishment went crazy over the use of a democratic primary campaign against Lieberman, with us being called 'Hezbocrats', then a genuinely centrist establishment would be equally panicky about a challenge from the right against a Republican like Hagel.

But right now, the establishment is silent.  Remember, it wasn't just the DLC speaking out over Lamont.  Dick Cheney, George Bush, and William F. Buckley were consistent advocates of Lieberman.  They helped keep the notion of liberal extremism into the pundit class.  

Liberals should do the same thing, and point out that the Republicans are split on Iraq between extremists and moderates like Chuck Hagel.  I mean, there's a primary going on for the soul of the Republican Party, just like there was last cycle in Connecticut in 2006.  

Chris Matthews, David Broder, Chuck Schumer, and Rahm Emanuel ought to be pointing this out.  That they aren't speaks volumes.

There's more...

A Reverse Lamont: Where's the Media?

Diarist ptmflbcs at Dailykos alerted me once again to important chapter in the story of the modern Republican Party: the current right-wing primary challenge to Senator Chuck Hagel by Attorney General Jon Bruning.  This is something of a Lieberman-Lamont story on the GOP, only in reverse.  But the parallels aren't perfect, and illustrate well the differences between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, as well as how the media treats the two.

Order Taking Republicans

First of all, Chuck Hagel isn't particularly moderate.  His voting record was in virtual 'lockstep' with President Bush in 2004.  On domestic policy grounds, he is exceptionally loyal.  So what is the story here?  Obviously, partly it's Iraq.  Hagel has been a critic of Bush on Iraq, and even voted against Bush on the supplemental, providing an important margin of victory for the supplemental that Bush then had to veto.  While Democratic officials can vote against the party line and even lash out against the base without consequence (Mark Udall did it again today), Republican officials are not given the same latitude.  This quote, from Roll Call, on the difference between lobbying the two parties, is illustrative:

"Republican lobbyists are used to walking into an office and just saying, `I'd like you to do this,'" said one Republican operative who regularly lobbies across the aisle. "With Democrats, you really have to hone your arguments, and you really have to sell them on policy."

In other words, Republican officials are order-takers.  Hagel is not.  He isn't on Iraq, even going so far as to suggest that an impeachment of Bush might be on the table.

GOP Party Elites

The Republican Party establishment is much more receptive to primary challenges from the right than the Democratic Party is from the left.  Remember the immense carping about Ned Lamont?  The wailings of purges from insiders, the fear of the crazy liberal left?  None of that is happening on the right.  In fact, despite constant suggestions from the media that the GOP is about to abandon Bush on Iraq, there are four possible challenges against moderate Republicans on the issue of Iraq.  Iraq or no Iraq, the authoritarian conservative movement continues apace.

On a local level, you can see this in action.  Ned Lamont was a total outsider, a businessman with virtually no history in politics.  In 2006, John DeStefano and Dan Malloy, two popular mayors from the two large cities in Connecticut, both declined to run against Lieberman, choosing instead a ridiculous and futile race against the immensely popular Governor, Jodi Rell.   They didn't just choose to run against Rell, they entered a primary in order to figure out who would lose to Rell.  Only a non-political type would dare challenge Lieberman, even though he is more right-wing on Iraq than all but the most extreme neoconservative Republican.  In Nebraska, the situation is reversed.  Hagel may in fact have two challengers, a sitting Attorney General named Jon Bruning and former Rep. Hal Daub.  Both Nebraska insiders and DC insiders like Dick Cheney don't like Hagel, and are no doubt smiling at the primary challenge.

GOP Base

Here are polling numbers from Jon Bruning, one of Hagel's possible challengers.  Bruning is leading Hagel by 47-38, though to be fair these are Bruning's numbers (The Nebraska Dem party has numbers on the race as well).  Compare them to Lamont's challenge to Lieberman at a later date in the cycle, where Lamont trailed by 65-19.   Certainly much of this is name recognition, but it's very difficult to see all of it as such.  Lieberman was simply very popular among Democrats, and Lamont had to make his case forcefully and repeatedly to win.  And he was certainly helped by a lot of missteps by Lieberman during the primary campaign.

These are also base voters, which suggests that it's not just the party elites who are receptive to primary challenges.  Note also that Lieberman has to be challenged, there had to be a debate before his numbers moved.  With Hagel, the base voter in the Republican Party has already decided that he is not loyal to Bush and thus must be removed from office.  The reason we can't crack Republican unity is because the elites and the base voter in that party are both convinced that loyalty to Bush are absolutely bedrock values, maybe even part of their identity.  Without even having a real argument, GOP voters are willing to ditch a Senator that is with them on 98% of the issues.

Where Is the Media?

With thousands of stories on the Lamont-Lieberman circus in 2006, it's worth noting that there has been basically no reporting on Hagel's precarious position.  I did a Google search for 'Chuck Hagel poll' to see if there's any more data on the Bruning challenge, and there are more results on Hagel's possible Presidential run.  In fact, Hagel's extreme jeopardy in his home state is more likely to lead to his retirement or Presidential run than a reelection bid in 2008.  It's something of a travesty that the GOP rejection of Hagel in Nebraska, both from base voters and party leaders, isn't widely reported.  This is a really big deal.  The Republican Party isn't going to move away from Bush in 2008 during the primaries at all, because base voters have invested their identity in the President to the exclusion of anything else.  How else can you explain an exceptionally loyal voting Senator in Nebraska immediately losing out of the gate to a primary challenger with relatively low name recognition?  

There is a narrative that the country is increasingly unhappy with the Iraq War and George W. Bush, and that the GOP is going to move away from both.  This narrative started meekly in 2003, but has stepped up in frequency over the years until it's become routine for press reports to say that GOP candidates are 'bashing Bush' on a regular basis, even as anyone watching the GOP debate would note that the level of extremism is the same as it has been for twenty five years.

The rubber hits the road in primary contests and elections.  Chuck Hagel is in trouble because he doesn't take orders like a good GOP shill.

Beyond Red and Blue States

These kinds of primary challenges have been around since 1978, when a whole bunch of liberal Republicans were knocked out of power by the New Right direct mail groups.  And the power these groups generated, the total takeover of the Republican Party by an extremist and authoritarian movement, is extraordinary.  In 2008, we will have seen 30 years of conservative primary challenges.  Thirty years. This kind of authoritarian politics is so accepted that the media doesn't even remark on it anymore.  Think about it.  Chuck Hagel and Dick Cheney are in a bloody brawl, there's a right-wing primary on Iraq where the person in step with the country but out of step with Bush is getting thrashed, and the GOP establishment takes the other side.  And there's not really any media discussion about what this means for the country.

But in the most important respect, there is a real debate in Nebraska itself.  While it's painful to deal with the immense party discipline this kind of lockstep authoritarian base and establishment engenders, we can assure ourselves that the conservative movement is no longer going to work for the GOP.   Though Nebraska is a red state, 57 percent of Nebraskans want a timetable for withdrawal, and only 37% want to give Bush's surge a chance to work. That means that Democrats can make inroads in unusual places like Nebraska, much as they did in Kansas in 2006.  This is a map that is being rewritten, because independents are moving into the Democratic column on the war, even in red states.

The country is getting tired of order taking psychotic Republicans that work only for the interests of big business.  And while in a normal environment, we'd see the Republican Party respond and shift towards a more moderate stance, the opposite is actually occurring.  The party is running primary challenges against those who are in step with the mainstream precisely because they are in step with mainstream dislike of Bush's policies.  That's not a winning formula, but it's also an important piece of the public debate that we need to hash out.  Just what does it mean that the Republican Party is as extreme as it was in 2006?  It's time that an iota of media coverage be devoted to the right-wing primary purges.

There's more...

Zbig Likes Obama

Earlier today, Zbigniew Brzezinski -- National Security Advisor under Jimmy Carter -- was a guest
on Brian Lehrer's public affairs program on the New York public radio station WNYC. Whatever
one may think of his specific policies at various points in his long career, Brzezinski now is one of the
wisest, most sober-thinking, best-respected foreign policy minds anywhere. Toward the end of his
wide-ranging interview with Lehrer, Brzezinski offered a subtle, provocative, and candid analysis of 2008:

BRIAN LEHRER Are you supporting anyone for president in 2008?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI Well, I know, more or less, what I think is needed, and I'm
watching carefully to see who comes closest to it.

Basically, America needs a president who re-identifies America with the new issues
that the world is facing, and reassures the world that America can provide effective,
constructive, consensual leadership in responding to the varying aspirations and desires
of a very, very politically awakened and increasingly complicated world.

And on the Republican side, the person who comes closest to meeting that need, I think, is Chuck Hagel.
But he's not a candidate yet, but I think he will be a candidate.

On the Democratic side, the person who comes closest to meeting that need, in my view, is Obama....

BL How would you assess Senator Clinton, by that standard -- especially given her experience, obviously,
as First Lady during the Clinton years?

ZB Well, I'm not sure that being a First Lady necessarily is pertinent experience to being a president.
But the issue is really more whether you stand for something new, for something different.
I think
the Clinton record is mixed: There are some positive aspects to it, but there are also some shortcomings....

And it seems to me that America needs a new image and not a restoration of the past -- not
to mention the inherent ambiguity of the role of the former president in a new Clinton administration.
What would really be his role? Who would really be governing America?

BL Could that not be a good thing, given his popularity around the world?

ZB Well, then, he ought to run for president. And I'm not sure he's really all that popular. He's getting
very big fees for speeches. But whether he's really a symbol of an America that is responsive to global
problems, I'm not so sure. He's doing good works right now, but he has to be judged as president and
not what he's doing right now.

. . . . . . . . . .

BL What about some of the Republicans who are in the race. To Democrats, they probably look at
McCain and Romney and Giuliani and say, well, basically they sound like Bush. Would you make any
particular distinctions among them?

ZB Well, they sound like Bush, largely because, at this stage, they are appealing to the basic Republican
constituency, which is extremely hard-nosed and ideological.

But it is a minority in the Republican Party. I think public opinion polls show that the disaffection with the
war is widespread and not partisan. So my guess is that whoever emerges as the candidate, assuming it's
one of those three and not somebody like Hagel, will probably then appeal to a wider base running for
president. And my guess is that whoever is the next president will want to disassociate himself
from the war.

And I think that will be better done by a new president who never really supported the war.
And this is where my leanings towards Hagel and Obama are reflecting that judgment.

BL Can you compare John Edwards to Obama, by your criteria?

ZB Well, Edwards is a very able, appealing candidate, no doubt about it. And he has changed his
mind on the war in Iraq. I have respect for him. I think he's a strong candidate, as is Senator Clinton,
as are some of the others.

But I don't have the sense, at this stage, that he's as evocative to the rest of the world
and is as capable of mobilizing American idealism -- and to mobilize it in a demanding
fashion, and not just in a flattering fashion -- as I sense Obama might be.

An audio link to the full interview is here.


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