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Tilting at Windmills

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November 28, 2010

DANFORTH FEARS GOP MAY REACH POINT 'BEYOND REDEMPTION'.... With Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) inadvertently raising his nation profile lately, the New York Times notes an interesting larger context: the long-time conservative Hoosier isn't afraid to break party ranks when he thinks it's important.

Mavericks are not in vogue these days on Capitol Hill, a place where hyper-partisanship and obduracy seem to be their own rewards.

But Senator Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican who played that role long before it had a brand name, is standing against his party on a number of significant issues at a politically dangerous time to do so.

A reliable conservative for decades on every issue, he nonetheless fought President Ronald Reagan -- and prevailed -- on apartheid penalties and over the Philippine presidential election. He went head to head with Senator Jesse Helms in the 1990s over the nomination of William F. Weld, former governor of Massachusetts, as ambassador to Mexico.

Now, in the heat of the post-primary lame-duck Congressional session, he is defying his party on an earmark ban, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants, a military spending authorization bill and an arms control treaty with Russia.

He even declined to sign a brief supporting state lawsuits against President Obama's health care law because he saw it as political posturing.

Good for him. In an era in which Republican lawmakers too often act like mindless partisan drones, principally concerned with what Rush Limbaugh and Fox News will say about their efforts, Lugar is an old-school statesman -- committed to his conservative beliefs, but willing to put national interests above party politics on issues he considers important. I probably disagree with Lugar about 90% of the time, but even I can appreciate the fact that the senator brings some integrity and seriousness of purpose to his work.

For his trouble, Lugar may very well face a primary challenger when he seeks re-election in 2012, a prospect some respected party leaders find chilling.

Former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), who joined the Senate the same year as Lugar, told the Times, "If Dick Lugar, having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption."

I'm not sure how much more evidence Danforth would need. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) faced a primary challenger in the 2010 cycle, as did Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and former Republican Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. In 2012, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) will very likely face an intra-party challenge of her own.

Hasn't the contemporary Republican Party already "gone overboard" in targeting members the base considers insufficiently right-wing?

Lugar, meanwhile, seems almost certain to face a primary challenger. A spokesperson for the Indianapolis Tea Party condemned Lugar for his "more moderate" voting record -- which seems pretty silly given how conservative he is -- and the chair of the Indiana Republican Party added that a primary race appears likely.

Given this, Danforth's concerns, which are more than reasonable, appear to be based on the fear that the unhinged right may soon completely dominate Republican politics. My only response to the retired senator is, his fears have already been realized.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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Of course Lugar will have a primary challenger, and it will be the most ignorant damnfool teabagger the Republican party can find. And if the fool wins the primary, he'll ride Palin's coattails to defeat in the general.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on November 28, 2010 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

And, this is exactly why the Lame Duck session should be passing the Disclose Act - already passed by the House - but failed previously in the Senate because of not even getting a vote since only 59 senators would let it go past filibuster.

Harry Reid does not even have the Disclose Act on the agenda for the next three weeks, but there are several Republicans who are already on the target list for 2012: Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe should be willing to join Richard Lugar since they will all want their constituents to know who is funding the attack ads against them and supporting the "most ignorant damnfool teabagger the Republican party can find."

Posted by: withay on November 28, 2010 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

"Lugar may very well face a primary challenger when he seeks re-election in 2012, a prospect some respected party leaders find chilling."

Assuming there are still a few Indiana voters who can read, Lugar needs to use his franking privilege, and send them a letter, detailing his position(s).
If they can tear themselves away from Fox TeeVee, from Beck/Limbaugh/Palin long enough to open the envelope, reason may still prevail on the banks of the Wabash.

Posted by: DAY on November 28, 2010 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

If Lugar were to win his primary, it would be only because he sold himself as a teabagger in the McCain fashion. Running as a mature, thoughtful, engaged, and genuinely patriotic American would not do the trick. American conservatives want cheap answers, clowns, bright shiny objects, and lots of certitude.

Posted by: walt on November 28, 2010 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

In light of yesterday's post regarding the Tabbi - Gergen tete a tete, does anyone need any more proof that the TBaggers have some sort of "set of priniciples" - ie, right of right isolationists; that they are at least half crazy; and need to be taken very seriously.

Posted by: bigtuna on November 28, 2010 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

Danforth is a bit late to the party. The republicans passed the point of no return long ago.

Now Melhman...err...Graham is out here this morning saying the repeal of DADT is dead.

It is a party run by radio and TV talk show hosts.

Posted by: Holmes on November 28, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Y'all are being far too kind. This deranged GOP shift MUST be joined at the hip with the utter implosion of the MSM with regard to a total vacuum of any semblance of journalism. Ensure the bastards are called out on their role in refusing to call stupid for what it is.

Posted by: chopin on November 28, 2010 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Well Lugar will turn 80 before the 2012 election, so he may just decide to retire rather than face a tough primary. Lugar won his first re-election in '82 with 54%, but since then hasn't gotten less than 66%, and given that until now Indiana has had a reputation as a good state for the party organizations I doubt he's ever had a difficult primary challenger. I (obviously) don't know the man, so I have no idea whether he's one of those politicians who wants to die in office or go down in flames trying, but it wouldn't be the first time a senior member, faced with his or her first tough re-election in a long time, discovers the desire to spend more time with the grandchildren.

Posted by: D on November 28, 2010 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

I see nothing wrong with primary challenges to party-establishment legislators by those with more extreme views - would you want to rule out challenges to blue dogs by more liberal Democrats? Danforth - and Benen - are wrong to make a primary challenge the litmus test of insanity. The truly pernicious trend in Republican politics as opposed to Democratic politics is the demand that all real principles and the good of the nation be sacrificed for partisan ends.

And which is more threatening in the long run, the ability of some quasi-populists to have a voice in the Republican party, or the continuing takeover of all politics by big-money interests? Some Tea Partiers and many who express approval of some of the objectives of the movement are actually opposed to big-money interests.

Posted by: skeptonomist on November 28, 2010 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

"...we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption."

This from the man who brought us Clarence Thomas.

Posted by: somethingblue on November 28, 2010 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

@skeptonomist: Danforth was discussing that it would be a bad idea for anyone in the GOP to challenge Dick Lugar on foreign policy. Benen is also not saying that having a primary challenger is necessarily a litmus test to insanity. What Benen is saying is the reasons behind these primary challenges are what is insane. The Tea Party has made the sensible and rational the enemy of the good, and that involves absolutely NO compromise whatsoever with the opposition. Lugar, a pretty conservative lawmaker, having a primary challenger because of his position on START is what is beyond redemption. The Tea Party has made it where one cannot change positions in light of new facts or evidence, and has also made it impossible to agree on anything the opposition might find palatable. I almost wish that Obama would start taking positions that are opposite to his real goals just so he could get the Tea Party to support the real goal instead.

Posted by: Ben on November 28, 2010 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

For far too long the Republican party has allowed authoritarian figures to run amok in its big tent - working the old LBJ adage about tent pissing!

Well Danforth et al. the Birchers have come home to roost, and like pigeons, they are known to foul the nest! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on November 28, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

D beat me to it. I take all of this "mavrickiness" in the face of Tea Party domination of the Republican primaries as a sign Lugar is in his last term, doing what he wants without regard to reelection.

Posted by: zeitgeist on November 28, 2010 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't it time for Lugar, Danforth, Scowcroft, Bush 1 etc. to man up and say what they know to be true. Their party no longer exists.

Posted by: hornblower on November 28, 2010 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

I'm wondering why it's wrong for the GOP to throw out Senators who aren't conservative enough to please conservatives, but okay for Dems to throw out Senators [like Lincoln] who aren't liberal enough for liberals.

Posted by: JEA on November 28, 2010 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK


And I wonder why it's fine for the state to execute a criminal, but it's not ok for me to shoot your grandma.

Posted by: harry gent on November 28, 2010 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK


As Skepto and JEA point out, it should be perfectly obvious that a Teabagger challenge to Lugar would be exactly the same thing as the Dems putting up a primary challenger to Joe Lieberman.

In lieberman's case he backed the invasion of Iraq and openly campaigned against the Democratic nominee for president.

Whereas, Lugar is supporting a nuclear arms reduction treaty that has been the standard foreign policy for the U.S. for decades.

See, it's the same . . . oh wait, nevermind.

Posted by: DK on November 28, 2010 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

Specifically, a tea party challenge to Lugar over START and DADT would be like Dems putting up a primary challenge to Ted Kennedy in 2002 because he worked with Republicans to pass the Medicare drug benefit.

Posted by: tanstaafl on November 29, 2010 at 4:54 AM | PERMALINK
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