The crushing primary defeat of Indiana’s veteran Republican senator Richard Lugar not only shows the Tea Party movement is alive and well. It is also a pointer that the next Congress will be even more partisan and less inclined to compromise than ever.
Final results on Tuesday showed that the 80 year old Mr Lugar, first elected in 1976, lost by a 20 point margin to challenger Richard Mourdock, the state's treasurer who was strongly backed by the Tea party and other conservative groups. Mr Lugar quickly made clear he would not run as an independent in November’s general election. “This is it,” he said.
Thus ends one of the most eminent Congressional careers of the modern era, marked by a special expertise in foreign affairs. Courteous and soft-spoken, and moderate to his bones, Mr Lugar had two spells as chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His crowning achievement was co-authorship of the 1992 Nunn-Lugar Act with Democrat Sam Nunn, helping secure and dismantle nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union.
By the end, however, this willingness to work across the aisle proved his downfall. For hardliners who have come to dominate today’s Republican party, his sins included not only support for multilateral organisations like the UN, but his endorsement of President Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees and backing for sweeping immigration reform that is anathema to the Tea Party and others.
Nor was Mr Lugar temperamentally suited to the bruising campaign required to defeat Mr Mourdock, his first primary opponent as an incumbent. In 2006, when he was elected to his sixth and as it proved final term, the Democrats did not even bother to field a candidate against him, such was his popularity.
Now he joins a long list of moderates from both parties who have left Capitol Hill – some defeated in primaries, some victims of redistricting, and some who have chosen to retire in disgust at the endless partisan feuding. Moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats are all but extinct in the House of Representatives. After the defeat of Mr Lugar, and the retirement of Maine’s Olympia Snowe earlier this year, such Republicans of similar breed in the Senate are going the same way.
In a statement to tearful supporters after his defeat, Mr Lugar bluntly warned Mr Mourdock to change his ways. If he maintained his “embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset,” Mr Mourdock would achieve nothing as a legislator in Washington.
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