Why did the GOP go down Yamato-style, guns blazing on a suicide mission against impossible odds in the Hagel fight? Conor Friedersdorf’s suggests that part of the answer is information asymmetry, bred by the conservative echo chamber:
But Americans who get their news from anti-Hagel conservatives discovered Tuesday that much of the analysis they’ve long been fed on this subject left them as misinformed about the likely course of events as they were about Mitt Romney’s prospects for victory during Election 2012. Of course, a single nomination battle isn’t nearly so consequential as a presidential election. This is nevertheless another reminder for the rank-and-file on the right: Demand better from the journalists whose work you patronize, or remain at an information disadvantage relative to consumers of a “mainstream media” that is regularly outperforming conservative journalists.
I don’t think that this is entirely wrong, but I also don’t think it’s quite right. First, I don’t think that the rank-and-file on the right are terribly interested in repairing this information disadvantage; who wants to hear unpleasant things? I also think it’s reasonably clear that there are no rewards within movement conservative journalism for accuracy. Rather, imaginative, well constructed adherence to the editorial line of of the Commentary-National Review-Weekly Standard Axis leads to upward mobility, with the Free Bacon and the Daily Tucker provide entry points into the machine. I find this simultaneously abhorrent and admirable; you have to respect a movement so certain of itself that it feels no need to bother with inconvenient aspects of reality.
More broadly, I think that it’s wrong to read the “to-the-barricades” style journalism on Hagel as symptomatic simply of the closed information loop. While there’s some danger in imposing too much solidarity on the neocon faction of the Republican elite, I think it’s fair to say that the faction has done an excellent job of institutionalizing message coherence. Effective control over the two most important think tanks and several of the most important journals helps in that regard. I suspect that the decision to maintain the fight against Hagel even after it became obvious to everyone that it was hopeless rests on two foundations, one strategic and one cultural.
The strategic logic of holding out beyond hope in the Hagel battle is that the fight isn’t really about Hagel; it’s about control of the foreign policy apparatus of the Republican Party. Hagel is representative of the realist faction that neocons loathe. The old guard of that faction (Powell, Scowcroft, Hagel) is leaving the scene, but the Tea Party holds some disturbingly isolationist ideas, and may even value tax cuts (gasp!) over foreign wars and a high defense budget. Fighting the Hagel fight (especially as Hagel represents apostasy) is a fabulous way of asserting the grip of the neocon faction over GOP foreign policy, and narrowing the debate such that alternative views become “extreme.” In this context, it’s clearly very interesting that Rand Paul ended up voting against cloture both times, and
against for the nomination, although Paul may have had his own reasons. In any case, forcing the Hagel fight is about launching a winning an intra-party battle, and doesn’t have much to do with Obama at all. The secondary logic here is that if the neocons hold the reins in the GOP, they’re assured of a strong position in the next GOP administration, and there will eventually be another GOP administration, whether in 2016, or 2020, or 2024.
The cultural story runs as follows; one of the central planks of neoconservative foreign policy thinking is the important of resolve. Resolve aids both deterrence and compellence; throwing a country against the wall now and again enhances U.S. power and prestige. If resolve works on the international level, it probably works on the domestic level. The Hagel fight represented a cheap opportunity to display resolve; even in a hopeless fight, the neocons show that they’re willing to push beyond all reasonable means to carry on the struggle. The strategy works if Obama thinks twice about the next potentially controversial nominee, or if other elements in the GOP respect the display of resolve. Indeed, difficult, hopeless fights represent fantastic opportunities for developing a reputation for resolve, if you believe that sort of thing matters (and I don’t).
I don’t know how much either of these logics contributed to the Hagel suicide mission, and again it’s always dangerous to impute clear motivations to a faction, which is an informal organization that includes multiple actors with a variety of motives. Nevertheless, I suspect it’s wrong to think that the neocons just didn’t understand the odds against Hagel.