For the record, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, voted as Lugar did — on the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts (yes both times), preemptive invasion of Iraq (yes), economic stimulus (no) and Obamacare (no).
Lugar’s conservative voting record meant nothing to Indiana voters in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Lugar, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976, was ousted by a Tea Party-approved candidate named Richard Mourdock, the Indiana state treasurer with a much thinner resume than the one belonging to Lugar.
Lugar is known for his tireless work in foreign affairs. Along with Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., who has since retired, Lugar crafted legislation that bottled up Soviet nuclear warheads at the end of the Cold War 20 years ago.
Working with a colleague with a “D” behind his or her name is a bad idea, according to Mourdock, who recently said, “I have a mindset that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
“We developed a sense of trust, and we developed a sense of cooperation,” Nunn told the Associated Press of Lugar. “Trust in politics is misunderstood today. Some take it as meaning you compromised your principles. Dick Lugar never compromised his principles in anything we did together, nor did I. We found ways to work together because we examined the facts and let the facts have a bearing on the conclusions, and I’m afraid in today’s political world too often people start with the conclusions and then hunt facts to justify them.”
In 2009, as the Obama administration was launching a plan to keep General Motors and Chrysler from going out of business, Mourdock went to court. He eventually failed in his legal fight against the auto bailout, and because he failed, thousands of Indiana residents remain employed by the automobile industry.
On Tuesday, however, Mourdock’s record and ideology won the day over Lugar, though how extremism will play with Hoosiers in the General Election is unknown.
Of course, there’s no need to shed tears for Lugar, a longtime politician who surely knows he’s had a long career in a very rough game. By the way, Lugar’s opposition to federal spending programs in the late 1960s earned him the support of President Richard Nixon.
The larger lesson is not for Lugar; it’s for his longtime Republican colleagues in the Senate.
The Republican’s conservative base has little patience at the moment. In broad terms, the conservative movement desires a government the size and scope of the one before the Franklin Roosevelt administration, and probably closer to one not seen since the 19th century. They appear less interested in hearing how accomplishing that in a divided nation is next to impossible. For better or worse, Lugar was seen as too comfortable with the current version of Washington, too unwilling to dismantle the place.
So long as this movement within the Republican Party is in the ascendancy, others, including Shelby, might find themselves in a similarly difficult position.