By nominating Chuck Hagel to be his Defense secretary, President Obama is putting forward an aloof contrarian who doesn't suffer fools--a striving politician who considers himself above politics. Hagel's intellectual arrogance angers party colleagues, raising suspicions about what he really stands for, as well as doubts about whether he's a team player.
In other words, Obama has picked a man very much like himself. Hagel is Obama in a GOP jersey.
That may be the biggest reason why Hagel's confirmation in the Senate, while likely, will not be easy.
A decorated Vietnam War veteran and two-term senator from Nebraska who now chairs the Atlantic Council, a respected nonpartisan foreign-policy group, Hagel is unquestionably qualified. But he has many detractors who are aggressively parsing his record.
Republicans question his support for Israel, his commitment to denying Iran nuclear weapons, and his desire to sustain Pentagon spending. Democrats are pointing to insensitive remarks about gays that Hagel made more than a decade ago.
Obama's liberal allies are wondering why Obama would bypass other qualified nominees to pick a fight over Hagel. "The White House better mobilize the troops to defend Hagel because his critics are coming for him," said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, "and the last thing the president needs to waste political capital on is this fight--especially when you've got much bigger ones coming down the pike."