The Common Good

Reactions to Richard Lugar's Primary Loss

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) was defeated for renomination yesterday in the Indiana Republican primary.  During 35 years in the Senate, Lugar had built a reputation as a conservative, but one who was willing to work across the aisle, especially on issues of foreign policy and nuclear non-proliferation. That willingness became a major attack point for his opponent, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who pledged to end attempts at bipartisanship by pushing a more conservative agenda. “I have a mindset that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view,” he said this morning.

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Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) at a hearing in March. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Lugar’s concession statement was unyielding:

"If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good Senator. But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. 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. In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook."

Here are a few of today’s reactions.

David Corn (Mother Jones) sees Lugar’s defeat as a loss for his signature issues,

"As Washington's centrism fanciers predictably grieve the electoral demise of another member of that endangered breed, the Republican moderate, this is indeed a genuine loss for those who care about arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, and foreign-policy discussions that are serious and deep, not silly and opportunistic." 

A general rule that moderates are doomed strikes Manu Raju (Politico).

"There’s a new rule in American politics: Republican senators and Senate hopefuls who are too close to Washington and show streaks of moderation are toast — or most certainly poised for a grilling of their lifetime. Call it the Mike Castle rule. Or the Bob Bennett rule. Or, now, the Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) rule of politics."

That new rule, writes Steve Kornacki, (Salon) is sending a message to other Republicans.

"Lugar’s loss is a blow to the Senate not so much because he’ll be absent from it starting next January but because of the lesson that the Republicans who remain will take from it. The rules and traditions of the Senate, after all, have long encouraged senators to conduct themselves as Lugar has, remaining generally loyal to their party but also exercising individual prerogatives as they see fit. But the GOP’s conservative base has in the Obama-era risen up against this approach and launched a relentless campaign to turn the party’s Senate and House ranks into a uniform bloc of ideologically “pure” partisan warriors."

Jonathan Chait (New York) is particularly concerned about the effect on future Supreme Court nominations.

"The social norm against blocking qualified, mainstream Supreme Court nominees is one of the few remaining weapons the Republican Party has left lying on the ground. But if Republican Senators attribute Lugar’s defeat even in part to those votes for Kagan and Sotomayor, which seems to be the case, what incentive do they have to vote for another Obama nominee? And then what will happen if he gets another vacancy to fill – will Republican Senators allow him to seat any recognizably Democratic jurist? Especially as the Supreme Court interjects itself more forcefully into partisan disputes like health care, will it become commonplace for the Court to have several vacancies due to gridlock, for the whole legitimacy of the institution to collapse?"

A final word from Matthew Tully in the Indianapolis Star.

For Sen. Richard Lugar, this isn’t the way it should have ended. A revered and reasonable statesman shouldn’t lose in a low-turnout election marked by voter anger and non-voter apathy. His career shouldn’t end with an ineffective campaign that turned desperate and even sad in its final days. Most important, a lawmaker who spent decades diligently addressing big issues and tackling looming crises shouldn’t be treated as a pariah simply because he viewed the other side as fellow Americans, and not enemy combatants.

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