CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Chuck Hagel -- a twice-wounded Vietnam veteran and President Obama's choice for secretary of defense -- stands among numerous GOP leaders who became sickened by far-right Tea Party extremism that infested their party.
After serving as a U.S. senator from Nebraska for a dozen years, Hagel finally resigned from Congress and blasted the GOP.
"There's a streak of intolerance in the Republican Party today that scares people," he told Foreign Affairs magazine. "Intolerance is a very dangerous thing in a society because it always leads to a tragic ending.... Now the Republican Party is in the hands of the right, I would say the extreme right, more than ever before."
As the Senate prepares to vote on Hagel's nomination to head the Pentagon -- possibly today -- GOP senators are hurling Tea Party-style attacks on him. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., even threatens a filibuster to obstruct him. But we hope they fail in the showdown.
In recent years, various other top Republicans have been driven from office by militant ultraconservatives in GOP ranks. Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe quit in disgust. Longtime Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar was ousted in the 2012 GOP primary by a Tea Party crackpot who later went down to defeat. A similar fate hit Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.
Now the Tea Party toll is toppling one more veteran Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. "Another victim of right-wing extremism," the Philadelphia Inquirer called it. A report by University of Georgia professor Cynthia Tucker said:
"Chambliss now finds himself under fire from right-wing extremists in the Republican Party. So the senator will retire in 2014 rather than face a primary challenge. This is another sign of a party engaged in civil war. If Chambliss does not meet the standard for conservatism, then Republicans are doomed to bloodletting well into the foreseeable future."
Chambliss drew Tea Party fire because he cooperated with Democrats in an attempt to solve the federal deficit crisis. Far-right accusers said he "stabbed conservatives in the back," and called for his removal.
If he had run again next year, "He would have encountered rabid challengers willing to accuse him of grotesque crimes against party dogma," Tucker wrote.
This hard-line mentality is going all-out to defeat former Sen. Hagel as defense secretary. When the showdown vote comes in the next few days, we hope sensible mainline senators -- including West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin -- award him the post.