It has happened: the conservative Richard Lugar of Indiana has been defeated in the Indiana Republican primary Tuesday in what Yahoo News calls the Tea Party’s “biggest win since 2010 — and perhaps ever ” by an even more conservative Tea Party darling, Richard Mourdock. And Ari Berman in The Nation can write of the “end of moderate Republicanism” but though there is certainly truth in that, the picture is not quite so simple.
The media can pretend, as the Washington Post did this morning, that Lugar was defeated by a conservative, implying that Lugar was not a conservative. But he is, and was. While Lugar had showed a willingness to reach across the aisle and more importantly perhaps, to be reached, and while he was more moderate than the Tea Party, he was not a moderate Republican himself. His support for the rich-friendly “Fair Tax” should be evidence enough of this, though other evidence of his conservatism is abundant.
And Lugar did not just lose – he was crushed – in a state, moreover, that was not a Tea Party bastion in 2008. The Washington Post examination of the reasons for Lugar’s defeat does not lay it all at the Tea Party’s door, arguing that other reasons played a role, including his age, his length of service, and the impression that he had lost touch with his constituency. You do have to wonder if the recently revealed fact that he hadn’t actually lived in Indiana for decades (he sold his Indianapolis home in 1977) might have played into it.
All things being equal (they were not) if I were a Republican and living in Indiana still, I would have voted against Lugar for that reason alone: I like the people who represent me to at least live in the same state: it smacks too much of “professional bureaucrat” otherwise, whatever loopholes the rules may allow. But that can’t be the only reason for his defeat.
In fact, according to a recent survey, only one in five voters cited Mourdock’s Tea Party talking points as reasons for voting against Lugar. On the other hand, Mourdock did campaign against Lugar and campaigned as an extremist Tea Partier – as the Tea Party’s answer to Dick Lugar, who was perceived as being too moderate. Lugar’s fate is an example of what happens when bipartisanship becomes a bad word.
And as argued by the Winston-Salem Journal, while Lugar built “cross-aisle consensus”, Mourdock “is a man who mocks his opponent for such work and who talks more about fighting Democrats than America’s enemies.” There is a reason that the Tea Party Astroturf organ FreedomWorks voting guide for Rick Lugar quoted Barack Obama from the third presidential debate in 2008 before announcing that “it’s time for Lugar to retire”:
“Dick Lugar is among a handful of people who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House.”
And as Andrew Prokop wrote in The New Yorker the day of the election, “Lugar is facing negative ads derisively calling him “Obama’s favorite Republican” (the phrase is sourced to an MSNBC.com story from October 2008, though in that story it was followed by a question mark).” Prokop goes on to point out that:
“The Lugar-Mourdock race has featured the heaviest outside spending of any race in the country so far this year, at four million dollars total.
Of these outside spenders, the Club for Growth spent by far the most, allotting over $1.7 million for anti-Lugar and pro-Mourdock ads.”
Here is an example of how those dollars were spent:
The Tea Partiers are making a big deal of the victory, not surprising given the fuss they made over Lugar being an Obama crony. They targeted him way back in early 2011 for political extinction, after all, so this is the fulfillment of a wet dream, if you don’t mind me mixing metaphors. In fact, both the Tea Party and the NRA have claimed credit for Lugar’s ouster.
Lugar himself seemed to feel it was not failings of his own that led to his defeat but Tea Party extremism, as revealed by his parting words:
“If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good senator,” Lugar said in a prepared statement issued alongside his spoken remarks. “But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington.”
Lugar also said: “He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate.”
And this: “And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator.”
So here Lugar is on record as saying, quite truthfully, since Mourdock bragged about it himself, that his opponent has an “unrelenting partisan mindset.”
Ironically, after being ousted for being not partisan enough, Lugar was then attacked by Mourdock (Fox News was happy to supply the stage) for his “partisan attack.” Mourdock says that in his version of “bipartisanship” that Democrats ought to come around to the Republican point of view. Unsurprisingly, this Tea Partier doesn’t really get what bipartisanship is.
But another question arises: can a bipartisan politicians even make a partisan attack? Wouldn’t it be, by a definition, a “bipartisan attack”?
And showing that hope springs eternal, Mourdock opined that Lugar would come around and join his effort.
Now, perhaps unsurprisingly, we learn from Aaron Goldstein at The American Spectator that “It would come as no surprise to me if Lugar were to endorse Obama for a second term and if Obama were to be re-elected, he would be rewarded by being appointed Ambassador to Russia.”
Well, there is no doubt conservatives can get loopy. You can’t be surprised at this point at any accusation they make. Anyone who can believe FOX News (let alone Glenn Beck or the recently deceased Breitbart) can believe anything.
The facts are that Dick Lugar wasn’t extreme enough, he lost, and his defeat opens up a window of possibility for Indiana Democrats to seize a heretofore unattainable Senate seat. In other words, Dick Lugar’s loss may be our gain, and not that of the Tea Party and we will be the ones having the last laugh.