Bloomberg/Hagel: A Unity Ticket?

This post originally appeared in The Nation

"This country is in trouble. The world is in trouble. And we need some new, fresh, independent ideas to lead this country forward."

Sounds a like a line from a presidential campaign announcement speech. And it may just be.

Or, perhaps, it is a line from a vice-presidential campaign announcement.

What it almost certainly is not, however, is a line from the announcement by a sitting senator that he is seeking reelection.

So it goes on Chuck Hagel Watch, which is rapidly becoming the most unconventional beat in American politics.

Today's indicators suggest that the renegade Republican solon from Nebraska is leaning toward launching an independent campaign for national office.

Which office is still a little unclear.

Which party may be coming into focus. And here's a hint: It is neither grand nor old.

Hagel met two weeks ago with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another outsider Republican who has made little secret of his interest in stepping up the political ladder. Bloomberg has been exploring an independent run for national office for at least a year, even going so far as to make campaign appearances for an eccentric collection of non-New York candidates that includes Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a different breed of maverick who was reelected last fall as the candidate of a self-named third party but caucuses somewhat uncomfortably with the Senate Democrats.

Now, Hagel is openly speculating about a Bloomberg-Hagel ticket, or perhaps a Hagel-Bloomberg ticket running on an independent line next year, or perhaps on the line of the Unity08 movement. Unity08 is the multipartisan grassroots coalition that is trying to create what its spokesman, actor and Nation reader Sam Waterston, refers to as "a third force in the middle" to fix a system that he describes as having been "broken" by consultants, spin doctors and hyper-partisan Democrats and Republicans.

Bloomberg has openly flirted with the Unity08 crew.

Hagel, who has flirted with a Republican presidential bid, an independent presidential bid, a campaign for reelection on the GOP line or an exit from politics, now sounds as if he is reading from the Unity08 playbook.

The senator says his Republican party, the party "of Eisenhower, of Goldwater, of Reagan" has been "hijacked by a group of single-minded almost isolationists, insulationists, power-projectors." He peppers his commentary -- most recently on the CBS Sunday morning show "Meet the Press," with that talk of "new, fresh, independent ideas." And he says thereg is something appealing about "a New York boy and a Nebraska boy… teamed up leading this nation."

No, that's not an announcement. Just a big hint.

Bloomberg and Hagel still have a lot of differences to sort out.

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