04/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hagel: McCain Facing Electoral Buzzsaw Over Iraq

The Republican Party and its presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain are heading into a 2008 electoral buzzsaw with their continued support of the Iraq war, Sen. Chuck Hagel said in an interview with The Huffington Post on Thursday.

The country is still very sour on the war, the Nebraska Republican pressed, and support for candidates who want to stay the course is simply not there.

"I am concerned about the [party still holding on to Iraq as an issue]," said Hagel. "If for no other reason than the political factors here are quite obvious. This country has made a decision on Iraq, and as you see now in any poll, even a minimum of 25 percent of the registered Republicans cannot support the president's policy in Iraq. You take that with the independents and Democrats and you have anywhere between 60 and 70 percent who want out. So you can't politically sustain this and any party that uses this as an issue when they are going in the face of where America is, is not going to do very well politically. That is just the facts of life."

Hagel, who is retiring from the Senate, has not yet endorsed a candidate for the White House. While he considers McCain a friend, there is a vast gulf between the two on Iraq. But Hagel also has sharp disagreements with the troop withdrawal plans of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, which he views as overly rigid and hasty.

During a Wednesday event promoting his new book, "America: Our Next Chapter", Hagel was asked which candidate's "world vision" he most agreed with, Hagel evaded the question. "Nice try," he said, smiling. "How about this, I'll sign your book."

On Thursday, however, the Senator did show some awe and appreciation for Obama. Responding to news that the Illinois Democrat had raised more than $40 million in March (following $55 million in February), Hagel called him a "strong messenger," and even offered up a historical analogy to John Kennedy.

"It is a phenomenon," he said of Obama's fundraising. "It is something that I have never seen and I don't know if anybody else has ever seen it. It is unprecedented if you just look at the numbers. And what I think is astounding, not just the bottom line number in the short amount of time, but the average per contribution, and that is significant as well because it is so small... When you look at the next generation that Obama has broken into like nothing since John Kennedy... So his people have been very, very smart in how they use the Internet, and they obviously have a very strong messenger with a strong message."

As he approaches his leave from the Senate, Hagel has found himself increasingly at odds with his political party. On the issue of Iraq, he has been one of the fiercest critics of the Bush administration. And such a streak of independence had made the Nebraskan the center of talk about a potential third party run. That, however, has died down. But discussion over him teaming up with McCain or Obama has remained rampant.

And yet, any political partnership with McCain will have to be done over vast disagreements on the war. The two not only differ on the purpose and benefits of the war, but McCain has also yet to sign on to a revamped a version of the G.I. Bill, which Hagel and Sen. Jim Webb have vigorously endorsed.

"We have talked to John," Hagel said of the measure, which would remove the buy-in cost for veterans to receive greater education benefits. "John as you know has been involved on other pursuits. He has taken a close look at it, his people are. Both Webb and I had hoped he would get on it. Obviously Obama is on it and Clinton, three out of four Vietnam veterans in the Senate are on it, people like John Warner and James Inhofe are on it. So, obviously each Senator has to make his own decision on this thing. But we are going to continue to help educate McCain's staff and we hope he becomes part of it."