After a big build-up of expectation that Senator Chuck Hagel would announce something about his intentions for 2008 today - presidential campaign, senatorial campaign, or retirement - Hagel punted his decision until later this year. As someone who does not understand why Hagel would run for president, I see this as a sensible play. Hagel"s false image as a moderate and maverick block acceptance with much of the Republican base, despite the fact that Hagel voted with President Bush more than any other senator. Hagel's media persona severs natural support that he would have for his positions on abortion, civil rights, and environmental protections within GOP primary voters.
With Chuck Hagel, what you see in his Iraq war opposition is not what you get with on every other issue. He is not a Republican Democrats can love and he makes no efforts to hide the direction he wants to take the Republican Party and America in.
Chuck Hagel would have a tremendously difficult time overcoming perceptions of centrism to win the Republican nomination. With every other Republican candidate, excepting Sam Brownback, holding strong pro-war positions, it's unlikely that Hagel would be seen as a suitable balance as a vice presidential candidate.
My guess is that Hagel is waiting to see how well the Rudy McRomney troika succeeds at talking to conservative voters. If the base rejects them, Hagel might be under the illusion that he will be able to swoop in and win voters over with his hardline conservative voting record. Likewise if there are major scandals that pull one or more of the frontrunners down, Hagel may try to enter the race as a saving option. The only problem with this is that it's the strategy that Newt Gingrich is deploying: wait until September 30th, 2007 to consider entering the race.
The only other logical explanation for Hagel's continued flirtation with a presidential run is that he thinks he can generate enough grassroots support to become an attractive third-party candidate. With the Unity 08 "movement" gaining visibility and talk of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg exploring an independent presidential run, it's possible that Hagel thinks a home will open up for him on a ticket outside of the Republican Party. This is running a bit far afield into fantasy scenario land, though, and I hope that Hagel's ego isn't stretching itself out this far.
If Hagel wants to end the war, he can best do this by remaining in the Senate. If Hagel wants to restore the Republican Party to a position of sobriety and real conservatism, he will achieve the most by trying to lead his party from the Senate. If Hagel wants to lower his handicap, he should retire from politics and play more golf. He's not winning a presidential nomination and it's foolish for him to continue to entertain such thoughts.