While the ouster of Richard Lugar, of Indiana, from the U.S. Senate owes much to his neglect of hometown politics, it is also a telling sign of the ideological conformity that has become more and more the hallmark of Republican politics.
Lugar, 80, was an elder statesman of the Senate on foreign policy. And, if truth be told, he was a crutch — he would study the complexities of issues such as nuclear proliferation, so that his colleagues didn’t have to. They’d often just defer to his judgment.
Those issues hardly make one popular back home, even though Lugar had been a public official in Indiana for more than 40 years, including 35 in the Senate.
Still, even with his frequent absences from his state, should the man backed by the party’s establishment be such an easy target?
But in a party primary, a conservative candidate, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, was assisted by a flood of anti-Lugar ads from conservative groups who want to purge anyone with the taint of moderation.
True, Lugar voted against President Barack Obama on Obama’s health-care bill and other key measures, but that’s not enough for today’s absolutists. His earlier votes — including for the TARP economic rescue plan during the 2008 financial crisis urged by President George W. Bush — are vilified by the right.
Lugar’s real sins: old-fashioned patriotism and a willingness to cross party lines.
He admonished his successor, who now faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly in a suddenly competitive race this November. “If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good senator,” Lugar said. “But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington.”
Lugar also said: “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. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator.”
Unfortunately, that last ambition is not the goal for today’s zealots.