There's been a lot of talk about how veteran Senator Dick Lugar could have salvaged his campaign. The Indiana Republican was soundly defeated by nearly 20 points yesterday in primary race against a Tea Party-backed challenger. He lost amid criticisms that he's too close to Obama and not dogmatic enough for the GOP. Many of those criticisms came from outside groups, including Grover Norquist's Club for Growth and Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, which poured money into the effort to defeat the well-liked senator. In the end, Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock won the primary—and in response, Dick Lugar sounded a call of alarm for Republicans about the fate of the party.
Lugar noted his own Republican bona fides, including that he'd voted with Reagan more than any other senator. Then he went after Mourdock, the Tea Party, and the general intractability that's taken hold of his party:
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. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.
This is not conducive to problem solving and governance. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve. The most consequential of these is stabilizing and reversing the Federal debt in an era when millions of baby boomers are retiring. There is little likelihood that either party will be able to impose their favored budget solutions on the other without some degree of compromise.
Lugar's statement didn't stop there. He outlined what he saw as the necessary mindset for politics—one that "acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas." He noted that Reagan himself had worked with Democrats "and showed flexibility that would be ridiculed today." Then he noted the how many subjects had become taboo amongst Republicans, like the idea that climate change may be more than a myth or that immigration is anything but a bad thing. While he gave a brief mention of Democratic partisanship as well, Lugar saved almost all his focus for his own party.
Lugar was probably one of the most respected members of the Senate in either party, and like his colleague Olympia Snowe, was a member of the shrinking group of Republican moderates. Michael Tomasky has argued, fairly I think, that when it really counted, Lugar fell in with his party's extremism rather than fighting the tide. Paul Waldman had his own critique of the senator Tuesday, explaining that such moderates "gnash their teeth some and make lots of statements about how they really hope we can come up with a bipartisan solution to the problem at hand, but in the end they'll be there for the GOP when it matters."
Lugar's hardly been a profile in courage these past few years and releasing an honest statement about the state of the party would likely have been significantly more impressive if he had done it when he was active and wielded influence, rather than after his party gave him the boot. But nonetheless, this may be one of the most forceful and direct criticisms of the GOP from someone in office. Lugar's come to the obvious conclusion: For the Republican Party to succeed, it must divorce itself from some of its more extreme elements. Lugar's note isn't a victory letter to Democrats or even a call for bipartisanship. After all, for Democrats, this is largely a win—with Lugar in the running, they had no shot at the seat, whereas now they may be able to put the state in play. Instead, Lugar's statement served as a rebuke to Republicans' mob mentality.
"Like Edmund Burke," Lugar's statement read, "I believe leaders owe the people they represent their best judgment."
Too bad the senator waited until he lost to give those he represented for over three decades his own best judgment.