Lugar ouster could backfire on Indiana Republicans
By Dan K. Thomasson
Indiana Republicans have traded one of the U.S. Senate's brightest lights for a low-wattage bulb and may have severely dimmed their chances for retaining the seat held so long by Richard Lugar. If analysts are correct, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, a moderate Democrat, now has a decent chance of striking a blow for bipartisanship, the very thing some Hoosier voters found irritating about Lugar.
As Richard Mourdock, the state's treasurer, raced to an overwhelming victory over Lugar who will have held the seat 36 years at the end of this term ― most of it without significant challenge ― all sorts of interpretations about why were reverberating in national political circles.
GOP conservatives were calling it proof that reports of the death of the Tea Party movement were much exaggerated. Observers contended that the good senator with the international reputation had himself to blame for growing out of touch with a constituency that eschews almost any contact with the other party. They saw him as too willing to compromise with Barack Obama. Pundits read it as a failure to run an aggressive and tough-minded campaign like those of his similarly challenged Senate GOP colleagues John McCain and Orrin Hatch. Others ascribed his age, 80, as a turnoff for younger voters.
What seems clear, however, is that Lugar, a gentle Rhodes scholar and farmer who became the first of a long line of successful Indianapolis mayors, was not into the kind of rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred stumping that Mourdock, 20 years his junior, employed. His pending defeat became obvious several weeks before the primary.
The truth is that it was probably a combination of all these factors. He suffered from a perception of local absence. Voters had come to consider him as a distant figure that didn't even own a residence in the state, having sold his house when he went to Washington all those years ago. They apparently felt that he was overly committed to the strange notion that the nation's problems needed to be solved by cooperation between the parties.
He was preoccupied with foreign policy and excessively friendly to Barack (the evil) Obama. He had, after all, associated with then-senator Obama in trying to solve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And, oh yes, he had voted for President Obama's auto-bailout solution. His dedication to the principles of conservatism, whatever those are, were suspect.
Mourdock, on the other hand, had no such weaknesses. He made it clear during a particularly vicious campaign for the nomination that he believes bipartisanship is for sissies and certainly an impediment to what this country needs _ like fewer immigrants, much smaller government, abbreviated health care and far, far less spending on most social net programs. First things first, like eliminating the deficit without any tax hikes. He could be expected to be among the first to sign Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge ceding his responsibility to an outside interest.
His is a stance that recaptured the House for Republicans in the last election, but one that seems to have lost resonance since. Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, however, disputes that. He regards Lugar's defeat as a reflection of the continuing anger voters have over the president's failed policies. He contends predictions that the GOP could lose up to 15 seats in the fall are out of line.
Lugar meanwhile made it clear that while he hopes that Mourdock, if elected in the fall, will be a good senator, Mourdock's "embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset" are "irreconcilable" with his own philosophy of governance, and what six terms in the Senate taught him was best for the state.
What Indiana voters have done ultimately is to exchange the prestige of a window on the world for rented space in a narrow political garret.
Maybe it chafed them to be represented by a senator whose interests went beyond the state's boundaries ― a figure known to most of the globe's leaders as a voice of sanity in a dangerous world. How could such a retro statesman continue to serve the interests of those who see a strict adherence to the party line as the nation's only hope for salvation?
Dan K. Thomasson is a former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.