Chuck Hagel, the senator from Nebraska, describes himself as a "tidal" politician, one who believes that larger forces in society shape careers more than the ambitions of individuals. "The only mistakes I've made," he told me last week, "were when I tried to go against the tide."So far, the country's deep desire for more of Chuck Hagel has eluded everyone except for some inside-the-beltway pundits and Senator Hagel himself. His main claim to fame is that he has been a dependable voice whenever the media looks for a Republican to criticize other Republicans. Yes, he has the biographical details of his service in Vietnam, but that isn't enough to propel to dominance as an independent candidate. He needs money, and lo and behold, there's Mayor Mike with all his billions sitting around waiting to help him buy another political office. I think that Bloomberg is one of the most overrated guys out there. Sure, he's popular in New York City, but is the rest of the country panting for his sort of nanny state governance and his poor record on his supposed signature effort - education?
Today, that tide may be carrying him away from his Republican Party and toward a third-party or independent ticket with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- a development that could reshape the dynamics of the 2008 presidential race.
Next month, Hagel will make a threshold decision -- whether to run for a third term in the Senate. He gave me no definitive answer, but my guess is that he will say that 12 years of battling the institutional lethargy of Capitol Hill will be enough. Certainly he is under no illusions about how much he can achieve as one of 100 lawmakers.
On the contrary, while Washington is gridlocked in partisan battle between two equally spent parties, the country is moving rapidly, he thinks, to the conclusion that neither Republicans nor Democrats have the answers to the problems people see.
If he weren't a billionaire, would he be on anyone's list to form a political movement? I think we've had one billionaire independent candidate already and have seen that you can't build a viable party around one man's ego and billions.
In the early 1970s, Broder wrote a book, The Party's Over, lamenting the weakness of the American party system and laying out the reasons that he wished that the political parties could be stronger in controlling their members. I guess he's given up on that lament and is now just hoping for an entirely different party to come in on a white horse and save the political system.
Well, that just isn't going to happen in the way the electoral system is structured today. A person wins the presidency by winning a majority of electoral votes. And in most every state, those votes are allocated on a winner-take-all basis. Today, Maine and Nebraska are the only exceptions to that rule, although North Carolina and California are flirting with changes that would follow the Maine and Nebraska district allocation plan. And there is also the movement towards trying to form a sort of interstate pact whereby states would ignore their own state's vote and allocate electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. Neither plan is taking off at this point in the election cycle, so barring some rapid efforts by the plan's proponents, we're going to have an election determined by state's giving their votes in the same method they've been allotted before. And no third party, billionaire is going to change that this time around, no matter how much Broder yearns for it to be so.