At the start of 2011, Lugar met with senior party strategists who walked him through the mistakes made by the likes of Murkowski and Bennett — and emphasized how he too was vulnerable unless he took a far more aggressive approach to the possibility of a primary fight. Lugar chose not to heed those warnings.
Instead, the senator seemed to believe — wrongly — that his situation was unique, that his connection to voters in the Hoosier State went deeper and was, therefore, tougher to break than those of his losing colleagues…
“Conventional wisdom is that he should have gone nuclear early, but that would have killed him out of the gate,” said one Republican strategist who has worked in the state and is sympathetic to the incumbent. “Indiana would simply not have accepted that from him.”
The other problem for Lugar, according to the source, was that there was never a clean hit available on Mourdock that matched the incumbent’s support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), his votes on judges, nagging residency questions, and, yes, the friendliness between him and President Obama. (Lugar has been floated as a possible Defense Secretary in the Obama Administration.)
Contrast Lugar’s lackadaisical approach with Orrin Hatch’s aggressive backstage maneuvering to make sure this year’s Utah GOP convention was more favorably disposed to him than the last one was to Bob Bennett. The result: Lugar’s headed for retirement while Hatch came within a whisker of clinching the nomination outright and will probably win the runoff against Dan Liljenquist. Assuming it plays out that way, the conventional wisdom among Republican incumbents will be set in cement. From now on, if you see a tea-party challenge coming, you follow the McCain/Hatch approach and confront it proactively and expeditiously. There’ll be no more Bennetts or Lugars who get caught napping in the primary; from now on, everyone’s awake. I’m not sure how grassroots conservatives will counter that but I’d bet on a bigger role for outfits like FreedomWorks and the rise of tea-party Super PACs which can aggregate funds and launch damaging broadsides against incumbents before they’ve consolidated a lead against their primary opponents.
As for why a nice man like Dick Lugar needs to be retired, James Antle sums it up:
Peggy Noonan also stressed family ties when making the case for sending Lugar back to the Senate: “What Washington needs is sober and responsible adults.” Noonan didn’t disclose who the children were in this relationship.
But it is the sober and responsible adults who have accumulated a national debt larger than the country’s economy. There are two ways to demonstrate one’s sobriety and responsibility in Washington: to be as supportive of druken sailor-style fiscal irresponsibility as possible or to be as timid as possible in opposition to it.
Over in the Greenroom, Karl reminds Noonan that she seemed to have a handle on this logic not so long ago. Simply put, if you’re bracing for a brutal political war over sustainability in the age of entitlements, you’re probably not going to get much from a genial grandfatherly type whose tenure has seen more than $14 trillion added in federal debt. (Same goes for Hatch, do note.) More from Dan McLaughlin:
As I’ve noted before, besides the various ideological and cultural divides within the GOP, a core dividing line is over a sense of urgency to contain the runaway growth of federal spending and the reach of the federal government. It is difficult to picture Lugar and Hatch, as a pair of courtly octogenarians, having the necessary energy not only to seek what is apt to be a difficult partisan confrontation over these issues, but to put pressure on a president from their own party. And while Utah voters will surely be excited to go to the polls for Romney, conservative voters in other states like Indiana will need more encouragement – not yet another message that the establishment has shut them out. That’s good news in Ohio, where a fresh face (State Treasurer Josh Mandel) is on the ballot facing accused wife-beater Sherrod Brown; it may be more difficult to manage in some other races. And building a critical mass of such candidates (Mandel, Liljenquist, Mourdock, Ted Cruz in Texas, Jeff Flake in Arizona, Don Stenberg in Nebraska, Mark Neumann in Wisconsin, possibly a few others who haven’t proven themselves just yet) will make it easier to convince conservatives nationwide that even with Romney at the top, and even with some Senate races where we are resigned to moderates (Dean Heller, Scott Brown, Linda Lingle) or establishment-minded conservatives (George Allen), the party has not completely lost touch with the lessons of its victories in 2010.
Beyond all of this, on a gut level, the careerism evinced by an 80-year-old pleading for one more term in the Senate after serving 36 years is simply grotesque. (Again, same goes for Hatch.) I used to oppose term limits on grounds that the people should be fully free to choose their representatives but over time I’ve come to think the greater danger than slightly limiting their choices is letting a permanent political class calcify. If you want bold solutions to grave national problems, one surefire way to encourage them is to free politicians from reelection considerations. Give ’em two terms in the Senate and, let’s say, six in the House and you might finally see some movement on entitlements. Might.
Here’s the Google Elections page for tracking results. Two other important races tonight. First, in Wisconsin, Democrats will choose a recall challenger for Scott Walker. Labor’s candidate is Kathleen Falk but Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is favored; the contest is bitter enough that a post-election party unity rally has been canceled, so sit back and enjoy as Trumka and his pals in Wisconsin fume. The other big contest is the North Carolina vote that would ban gay marriage — and civil unions. If the last poll is right, the vote won’t be close: It’s 55/39 in favor of the ban in a state O won in 2008, which helps explain why he’s keeping his head down on this subject this week. Gallup’s out with a new gay-marriage poll today too showing 50 percent support nationally versus 48 percent opposition, but the key is the demographics. Greg Sargent:
It’s been widely reported that Obama fears coming out for marriage equality because it could alienate culturally conservative Dems and independents in swing states. Perhaps, but sizable majorities of moderates and independents support it, making Obama’s stance all the more mystifying (though no one believes he actually opposes it).
That said, there is one other interesting data point: Gallup tells me that non-college voters oppose gay marriage by 56-43. This appears to include African Americans, but it also suggests blue collar whites — a demographic Obama has alienated and needs to win back — risk getting put off over the issue. (Incidentally, as Molly Ball points out, non-whites oppose gay marriage in almost exactly the same proportions as the rest of Americans do.)
Update: Looks like the Google Elections link I gave you is following the by-now-meaningless presidential primary results. For Lugar/Mourdock returns, click here.
Update: That didn’t take long. Lugar’s Senate career is over.
NBC News has declared Richard Mourdock as the projected winner in the Indiana Senate primary. Mourdock defeated Republican foreign policy elder statesman Sen. Richard Lugar…
Looking toward the November election, National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said two weeks ago that “it will probably make it more of a contest if Sen. Lugar is not the nominee, but I’m confident we’ll hold the seat.”
Not such a good night for this guy either, huh?
Update: What now for Lugar, then? He’s eager to work for another six years despite his advanced age, but he hasn’t been a private-sector guy for a long, long time. He’s friends with Obama so presumably The One will appoint him to something. Any ambassadorships open? Forget Pakistan; I mean something less stressful.
Update: Go figure that a careerist would turn bitter when finally forced to answer to his constituents.
Of Mourdock, Lugar says: “His embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance.”
Lugar: “Our political system is losing its ability to explore alternatives. … Voters will be electing a slate of inflexible positions.”
Jonah Goldberg joked earlier on Twitter that they’ll be wearing funeral attire tomorrow on “Morning Joe.” He’s only half-kidding: Prepare for a solid day’s worth of truly insufferable media navel-gazing about the “loss of moderation” and tea-party “radicalism,” yadda yadda yadda.
Update: Philip Klein sees the value in sending a message to Romney:
Any elected Republican that doesn’t pursue a small government agenda once in office risks suffering the same fate as Lugar. Had Lugar hung on, then a lot of people would have dismissed the Tea Party as a passing fad from 2010. But now it’s clear that the movement has been underestimated once again. Tea Partiers have a lot more staying power than skeptics expected.
With the Republican presidential nomination going to the ideologically malleable Mitt Romney, supporters of limited government have recognized that their best hope for advancing the conservative agenda rests on the ability to elect as many principled conservatives to Congress as possible. That is, lawmakers who will be willing to fight for smaller government even if it means standing up to a president of their own party. The more victories the Tea Party racks up, the greater the chance that Romney will be forced to govern as a limited government conservative if elected, even if his natural inclination is to migrate to the left.
Update: Very curious. Looks like the prepared statement that Lugar released earlier was much more critical of Mourdock than the remarks he ended up delivering. Compare and contrast. Maybe his speechwriters drafted something and he thought it was too bitter? Here’s the relevant passage from the prepared remarks:
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…
I don’t remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other. Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive Presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc. Similarly, most Democrats are constrained when talking about such issues as entitlement cuts, tort reform, and trade agreements. Our political system is losing its ability to even explore alternatives. If fealty to these pledges continues to expand, legislators may pledge their way into irrelevance. Voters will be electing a slate of inflexible positions rather than a leader.
I hope that as a nation we aspire to more than that.
Update: As expected, North Carolina’s initiative to ban all forms of same-sex unions wins in a romp. Probably won’t hear too much more about gay marriage from Joe Biden during this campaign.
Update: How’s this for a beautiful result? Count the vote totals — and remember that the Democratic primary was the one being hotly contested while its GOP counterpart was a walkover:
Walker’s banked considerably more votes than Barrett and Falk combined. Message sent.
Update: And at last, we arrive at the most surreal story of the night. I think we can go ahead and put West Virginia in the Romney column for November:
With 60-odd percent of the vote counted in West Virginia’s Democratic primary, a man named Keith Judd can make a unique claim. He has won a greater proportion of the vote — almost 40 percent — than any other primary candidate running against Barack Obama.
Who’s Keith Judd? He’s prisoner #11593-051, currently serving out a sentence for making threats at the University of New Mexico.
Update: Jon Gabriel tweets, “It’ll be ironic if Eric Holder ends up being Keith Judd’s cellmate.”
Update: You ready for this? Joe Manchin refuses to say whether he voted for Obama in the Democratic primary in West Virginia.