That is, as they say, their job.
But the salvos being fired so far say as much about the state of the conservative movement as they do about the former Senator from Nebraska.
By now you’ve probably heard that Hagel was an Army sergeant in Vietnam.
He was honored with two Purple Hearts, among other front-line combat distinctions. He later served as a top official with the Veterans Administration.
While in the Senate, he served on the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Select Committee on Intelligence.
As a Republican, you’d think a resume like that — particularly for a red-state lawmaker like Hagel — would be iron-clad, at least among fellow Republicans.
Not so. Hagel has tripped the wire of conservative orthodoxy several times, questioning Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, arguing in favor of (fairly modest) budget cuts for the Pentagon, and urging a more rapid US withdrawal from Iraq.
All of these positions were, arguably, misguided. Fair-minded people can differ on these policy decisions and it’s a healthy thing that there is currently a wide range of opinions about them within the GOP.
The Ron Paul faction, notably, drew strong support from libertarian-minded voters last year for advocating what might be called an isolationist approach.
Meanwhile, the Bill Kristol-Charles Krauthammer wing of the party continues to advocate for an aggressively interventionist approach in countries such as Iran and North Korea.
Hagel appears to fall somewhere in the middle.
And it’s worth noting that a lot of Republicans evolved in much the same way that Hagel did — first supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, before adopting a more remorseful tone about those conflicts.
But his straying from the path has produced exactly the kind of Republican-on-Republican ugliness that has contributed in recent years to the unraveling of the conservative movement.
The fact that Hagel has occasionally endorsed Democrats, and praised the concept of bipartisanship, only deepened suspicion of him on the right.
One irony, of course, is that many of the same conservatives who are attacking Hagel for suggesting modest budget cuts for the Pentagon are the same leaders who are insisting that the Federal budget needs wholesale whacking.
Another painful challenge for the GOP is that many of their military-policy “moderates” — including war heroes like Hagel — appear to be drifting toward the Democratic Party.
General Colin Powell, a chief architect of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, endorsed Barack Obama twice; and the administration’s Army Secretary is former North Country Republican John McHugh.
While many hard-line conservatives see negotiating with Mr. Obama as a sign of weakness, many defense moderates have found a comfortable place within this administration.
Which is tough for the GOP to swallow.
It’s one thing for Republicans to “lose” domestic policy moderates like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, both former GOP stand-outs who quit the party after clashes with conservatives.
If conservatives also find it necessary to purge defense centrists like Hagel, their ranks could be very thin indeed.
Again, it’s possible that opponents of this nomination will find legitimate and damning arguments that will disqualify the former soldier, businessman, and lawmaker.
But if this is merely another chapter of the Republican civil war, playing out on the field of national defense policy, I suspect that Chuck Hagel may fare far better in the coming weeks than his ideological opponents.