The Cable

Hagel: Reagan wouldn't identify with today's GOP

The Republican Party has drifted so far to the right and become so partisan in recent years that President Ronald Reagan wouldn't even want to be a part of it, former Nebraska GOP senator Chuck Hagel told The Cable.

"Reagan would be stunned by the party today," Hagel said in a long interview in his office at Georgetown University, where he now teaches. He also serves as co-chair of President Barack Obama's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Reagan wanted to do away with nuclear weapons, raised taxes, made deals with congressional Democrats, sought compromises and consensus to fix problems, and surrounded himself with moderates as well as Republican hard-liners, Hagel noted. None of that is characterized by the current GOP leadership, he said. In his eyes, the rise of the Tea Party and the influx of new GOP lawmakers in Congress have driven the party away from common sense and consensus-based solutions.

"Reagan wouldn't identify with this party. There's a streak of intolerance in the Republican Party today that scares people. Intolerance is a very dangerous thing in a society because it always leads to a tragic ending," he said. "Ronald Reagan was never driven by ideology. He was a conservative but he was a practical conservative. He wanted limited government but he used government and he used it many times. And he would work with the other party."

The situation today is similar to where the GOP found itself in the early 1950s, when there was a battle for the direction of the party over the party's identity, Hagel said. Dwight Eisenhower and his moderate allies won that fight, diminishing the influence of extremists like Joe McCarthy, Hagel said.

But today, the extremists are winning.

"Now the Republican Party is in the hands of the right, I would say the extreme right, more than ever before," said Hagel. "You've got a Republican Party that is having difficulty facing up to the fact that if you look at what happened during the first 8 years of the century, it was under Republican direction."

George W. Bush started two wars while cutting taxes, added an unfunded prescription drug mandate, and ran up the deficit, but today's GOP leaders can't reconcile that history with their agenda today, Hagel noted.

"The Republican Party is dealing with this schizophrenia. It was the Republican leadership that got us into this mess," he said. "If Nixon or Eisenhower were alive today, they would be run out of the party."

Hagel decried the departure of the World War II generation, including figures like Ted Stevens, Bob Dole, and now Richard Lugar, and along with them the leadership provided by GOP senators who put national interests above party politics.

"They made it work because their obligation and responsibility was to a higher cause than their party. They were all partisan but they all knew their higher responsibility was to move this country forward and resolve issues through compromise and consensus. We've lost that glue in the Congress."

When moderate Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) resigned his leadership post in the Senate last year, that was a clear indication that the party had no room left for internal dissent, according to Hagel.

"How many times has that happened, to walk away from a leadership position so he would have more flexibility to find consensus and solve real-life issues," Hagel said. "There has been a litmus test, purity factor that has been applied over the years, I saw it in the Senate myself."

Hagel said that the GOP's swing to the extreme right is a response to overall unhappiness throughout the country with the state of the economy, Congress, and politics in general. He predicted that after the voters see that far-right politics don't work, the pendulum will swing back toward moderation.

"We have to go through this. There aren't any shortcuts. The Tea Party of the coffee party or the donut party or something was going to come out of this, it was very predictable," he said. "We're going to have to play that out."

Meanwhile, the dynamic of a GOP controlled by the extreme right is having an effect on the likely GOP nominee, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

"Whether it's Mitt Romney or anybody seeking office, you are captive to the positions of the party to some extent," Hagel said. "What latitude Romney has to shape the party as we go into the election is somewhat limited because of the primary he's had to run."

How Romney positions himself in the run up to the election and whether that results in a win or a loss will have a huge effect on the direction of the Republican Party for years to come, he said. He also urged Romney to provide more details on his plans to fix the country's problems.

"You can criticize the president all you want, but what the American people are going to be listening very carefully to is: How are you going to fix them? How will you do things different and better from the incumbent president? That's where the election will be won or lost."

In the end, both parties are to blame for Americans' disaffection with politics and government and more Americans are turning away from Democrats and Republicans as a result, Hagel said.

"It's evolved into a paralysis," he said. "I think it's the most serious governance crisis we've seen in this country in a long time. You may not like government, but it has to work."

JUNKO KIMURA/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

House pushes Obama administration to consider tactical nukes in South Korea

Frustration with North Korea's ongoing nuclear weapons and missile programs has pushed Congress to reopen the debate in Washington over whether the United States should reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea.

The House Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment to the fiscal 2013 national defense authorization bill that supports "steps to deploy additional conventional forces of the United States and redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to the Western Pacific region," and mandates that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta submit a report on the feasibility and logistics of redeploying forward-based nuclear weapons there, "in response to the ballistic missile and nuclear weapons developments of North Korea and the other belligerent actions North Korea has made against allies of the United States."

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), was approved by a vote of 32-26, with all Republicans, except for Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), and two Democrats in favor. It comes only weeks after another committee member, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), demanded the administration investigate North Korea's apparent acquisition of Chinese-made mobile ICBM launchers.

"We in the last many years have appealed to China to help us negotiate with North Korea to bring them in line in the quest for peace in the world... In fact, China has now embarked on selling nuclear components to North Korea," Franks said at at the committee's Wednesday markup. "Consequently it's become time for us as a nation to look to our deterrent and our ability to take care of ourselves and work with our allies to do everything we can to deter and to be able to defend ourselves against any future belligerence or threats from North Korea."

The United States stockpiled nuclear weapons in South Korea for 33 years before President George H.W. Bush removed them in 1991 as part of his effort to withdraw all overseas tactical nukes, except a few in NATO countries. Since then, every so often South Korean politicians raise the idea of reintroducing them as a response to North Korean aggression.

One senior South Korean politician argued this week that North Korea's ongoing belligerence justified a new discussion about the issue.

"There is no reason not to respond in a proportional manner [to the DPRK's military threat]," Conservative Party lawmaker and presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon said in a press conference in Seoul on Thursday. "The threat of a counter-nuclear force may be the only thing that can change North Korea's perception of South Korea."

In early 2011, the White House WMD Czar Gary Samore told a South Korean reporter that the U.S. would be willing to deploy tactical nukes to South Korea, after which the White House quickly backpeddled Samore's remarks and insisted the issue was not under discussion.

"Our policy remains in support of a non-nuclear Korean peninsula," Robert Jensen, deputy spokesman for the National Security Council, told Yonhap News Agency after the Samore comments. "There is no plan to change that policy. Tactical nuclear weapons are unnecessary for the defense of South Korea and we have no plan or intention to return them."