David Frum

05.07.12

RINO Hunters Chase Lugar

John Avlon makes the case that Senator Dick Lugar is being targeted in Indiana's primary by conservative activists because he has done too much to offend the GOP's uncompromising base:

The six-term Indiana senator was once Richard Nixon's favorite Republican Mayor—but Tricky Dick looks like a hippie compared to the Tea Party crowd, and Lugar has several sins alleged against him that could lead his party to purge him on Tuesday.

First, he's on speaking terms with some Democrats. Second, he once co-sponsored nuclear non-proliferation legislation with Barack Obama. Third, as the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he definitely knows who the president of Uz-becki-becki-stan is.

Which is why severe conservatives from Rick Santorum to Michele Bachmann to Grover Norquist are rallying around Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a Tea Party favorite who diagnoses the problems in Washington this way: “The time for being collegial is past, it's time for confrontation."

Talk about a choice, not an echo.

Avlon points out that many of the activists who are supporting Lugar's opponent, Richard Mourdock, come from the hard-lined and non-compromising wing of the GOP. This is true, but I think Avlon overlooks Lugar's weaknesses as a candidate. Reihan Salam in National Review describes Lugar as a long serving incumbent who has "for whatever reason decided not to retire gracefully, which is a shame".

A similar point about Lugar's incumbency being a detriment is raised in reporting for National Review by Brian Bolduc:

Indianapolis, Ind. — “Dick Lugar’s not been up in this area for a long time,” says Diane Miller. A Republican from Albion, Ind., Miller is running for local office, as is half the audience, it seems, at the Noble County GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner. Sitting in the back of the dining room at the Cobblestone Golf Club, Miller admits, “I’m surprised to see him here.”

Amid the bumper stickers and the yard signs and the roasted chicken and the baked potatoes, the dignified presence of Indiana’s senior senator, who rarely attended political events in the past, almost seems jarring. Miller notices the discrepancy: “I’m surprised he stayed [for the whole dinner],” she says, with a hearty laugh.

It's the responsibility of politicians to cultivate relationships with their home state and party, and Lugar can't be let completely off the hook if after several decades, Lugar has lost his touch.