Hagel didn’t help his cause with his past opposition to unilateral penalties against Iran, his comment about the influence of the “Jewish lobby” in Washington, his support for reducing the nation’s nuclear arsenal and remarks that created widespread doubts about his backing for Israel.
His halting and uneven performance at his confirmation hearing also hurt his nomination.
McCain, one of Hagel’s friends during their years in the Senate, would have been a crucial vote to help sway other Republicans to back the nominee. Instead, he is one of more than a dozen opposing Hagel.
“I think he will have been weakened, but having said that, the job that he has is too important,” McCain told reporters Friday during a visit to Mexico. “I know that I and my other colleagues, if he’s confirmed, and he very likely will be, will do everything we can to work with him.”
The nomination fight also is about the business of re-electing Republicans in 2014. Challenging the Democratic president over his nominations and policies is clearly a winner with the conservative base, a point not lost on GOP incumbents wary of challenges from the tea party.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who’s up for re-election next year, is getting high marks from Republicans for his relentless effort to get more information about the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, and his fierce opposition to Hagel.
“Most people down here think he’s dead-on in his arguments and hope that he continues to press the issues,” said Warren Tompkins, a longtime GOP strategist.
The Libya attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans has been a political flashpoint for Republicans who accused the Obama administration of an election-year cover-up of a terrorist assault.
An independent review conducted by respected former diplomats failed to mollify the GOP, who demanded testimony from Hillary Rodham Clinton, secretary of state when the attack occurred, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.