Ousted Richard Lugar’s “Scathing” Farewell Letter Details America’s Partisan, Ideological Mire
Shortly after he was ousted in a Republican primary yesterday by a Tea Partier for a variety of reasons including daring to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar issued a kind of political farewell letter that several sites called blunt and scathing and ran in full. The letter is of particular interest to independent voters, centrists, moderates and anyone who thinks ideological and political rigidity is toxic to our political system. So here (this from First Read) is the letter in full:
Prepared Statement of Senator Richard G. Lugar on the Concluded Indiana Senate Primary
May 8, 2012
I would like to comment on the Senate race just concluded and the direction of American politics and the Republican Party. I would reiterate from my earlier statement that I have no regrets about choosing to run for office. My health is excellent, I believe that I have been a very effective Senator for Hoosiers and for the country, and I know that the next six years would have been a time of great achievement. Further, I believed that vital national priorities, including job creation, deficit reduction, energy security, agriculture reform, and the Nunn-Lugar program, would benefit from my continued service as a Senator. These goals were worth the risk of an electoral defeat and the costs of a hard campaign.
Analysts will speculate about whether our campaign strategies were wise. Much of this will be based on conjecture by pundits who don’t fully appreciate the choices we had to make based on resource limits, polling data, and other factors. They also will speculate whether we were guilty of overconfidence.
The truth is that the headwinds in this race were abundantly apparent long before Richard Mourdock announced his candidacy. One does not highlight such headwinds publically when one is waging a campaign. But I knew that I would face an extremely strong anti-incumbent mood following a recession. I knew that my work with then-Senator Barack Obama would be used against me, even if our relationship were overhyped. I also knew from the races in 2010 that I was a likely target of Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and other Super Pacs dedicated to defeating at least one Republican as a purification exercise to enhance their influence over other Republican legislators.
We undertook this campaign soberly and we worked very hard in 2010, 2011, and 2012 to overcome these challenges. There never was a moment when my campaign took anything for granted. This is why we put so much effort into our get out the vote operations.
Ultimately, the re-election of an incumbent to Congress usually comes down to whether voters agree with the positions the incumbent has taken. I knew that I had cast recent votes that would be unpopular with some Republicans and that would be targeted by outside groups.
These included my votes for the TARP program, for government support of the auto industry, for the START Treaty, and for the confirmations of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. I also advanced several propositions that were considered heretical by some, including the thought that Congressional earmarks saved no money and turned spending power over to unelected bureaucrats and that the country should explore options for immigration reform.
It was apparent that these positions would be attacked in a Republican primary. But I believe that they were the right votes for the country, and I stand by them without regrets, as I have throughout the campaign.
From time to time during the last two years I heard from well-meaning individuals who suggested that I ought to consider running as an independent. My response was always the same: I am a Republican now and always have been. I have no desire to run as anything else. All my life, I have believed in the Republican principles of small government, low taxes, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and trade expansion. According to Congressional Quarterly vote studies, I supported President Reagan more often than any other Senator. I want to see a Republican elected President, and I want to see a Republican majority in the Congress. I hope my opponent wins in November to help give my friend Mitch McConnell a majority.
If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good Senator. But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. 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.
This is not conducive to problem solving and governance. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve. The most consequential of these is stabilizing and reversing the Federal debt in an era when millions of baby boomers are retiring. There is little likelihood that either party will be able to impose their favored budget solutions on the other without some degree of compromise.
Unfortunately, we have an increasing number of legislators in both parties who have adopted an unrelenting partisan viewpoint. This shows up in countless vote studies that find diminishing intersections between Democrat and Republican positions. Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum are dominating the political debate in our country. And partisan groups, including outside groups that spent millions against me in this race, are determined to see that this continues. They have worked to make it as difficult as possible for a legislator of either party to hold independent views or engage in constructive compromise. If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several years. And I believe that if this attitude expands in the Republican Party, we will be relegated to minority status. Parties don’t succeed for long if they stop appealing to voters who may disagree with them on some issues.
Legislators should have an ideological grounding and strong beliefs identifiable to their constituents. I believe I have offered that throughout my career. But ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively, and for the fortitude to sometimes disagree with your party or even your constituents. Like Edmund Burke, I believe leaders owe the people they represent their best judgment.
Too often bipartisanship is equated with centrism or deal cutting. Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times. Certainly this was understood by President Reagan, who worked with Democrats frequently and showed flexibility that would be ridiculed today – from assenting to tax increases in the 1983 Social Security fix, to compromising on landmark tax reform legislation in 1986, to advancing arms control agreements in his second term.
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. I hope we will demand judgment from our leaders. I continue to believe that Hoosiers value constructive leadership. I would not have run for office if I did not believe that.
As someone who has seen much in the politics of our country and our state, I am able to take the long view. I have not lost my enthusiasm for the role played by the United States Senate. Nor has my belief in conservative principles been diminished. I expect great things from my party and my country. I hope all who participated in this election share in this optimism.
Massachusetts’ Democratic Sen. John Kerry issued an extensive statement. Here it is (via Booman Tribune):
“This is a tragedy for the Senate and the loss is particularly felt by all of us who have been privileged to serve with Dick on the Foreign Relations Committee. It’s a blow to the institution during a period when the institution itself has been strained. Whether he was serving as Chairman or Ranking Member of our Committee, wielding the gavel or working the floor, Dick’s approach to governing was always the same: he wanted to find serious answers to some of foreign policy’s most vexing questions. He’s a class act and a gentleman and in a Senate that has seen so much change and transition these last years, his expertise on complicated issues honed over 36 years simply can’t be replicated. I know, however, that Dick Lugar will finish out his sixth term in the Senate with the same determination and effectiveness that has marked every year of his service here, and he will have many more contributions still to an institution he reveres and that reveres him.
“Dick’s Nunn-Lugar efforts have become almost shorthand for bi-partisanship in foreign policy, and they should be recognized. But for me, on a personal level, two other efforts stand out as epitomizing who Dick is and why he’ll be missed. For me, it started with the work we did together in the 1980’s to help bring about free and fair elections in the Philippines. I was just a freshman senator, but I was lucky to get to know Dick Lugar as a dignified, thoughtful and capable public servant who even then was becoming an institution within this institution. He was serious, he was fair-minded, and I saw firsthand during our trip to the Philippines that he had a very personal and special understanding of what the United States means to the rest of the world. That cause animated a Hoosier who was a reserved and humble public person, but who proudly recounted for President Reagan the difference the United States made in giving voice to the Filipino peoples’ democratic aspirations. I saw that same commitment in Dick Lugar many times over the years but never more so than in the long, tough, and patient process required when we worked together on the New START Treaty two years ago. His wisdom and his patience was invaluable in laying out the case and particularly in building Republican support and finding the path to those 71 votes.
“It will soon almost sound cliched to say that America is safer today because of Dick Lugar’s 36 years of service in the Senate, but it really does bear repeating. His record on our Committee will long be remembered in the same context as another chairman, William Fulbright of Arkansas, whose Senate service also ended in a difficult primary defeat, but who is remembered today not for one loss, but for a legacy of following the facts and speaking the truth despite the political risks. This is a tough period in American politics, but I’d like to think that we’ll again see a United States Senate where Dick Lugar’s brand of thoughtful, mature, and bi-partisan work is respected and rewarded. That kind of seriousness of purpose should never go out of fashion.”
Congress may be morphing into Fox News and MSNBC…
UPDATE: The Daily Beast:
In 2006, Lugar won reelection with 87 percent of the vote. Tuesday night, as the returns rolled in, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican was losing in a humiliating landslide to Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock—the candidate supported by Indiana’s disparate Tea Party groups and bankrolled by Washington’s socially conservative and free-market, tax-hating business lobbies.
As if to confirm the Tea Partiers’ suspicions about Lugar, his Democratic colleague on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman John Kerry, called his defeat a “tragedy for the Senate.” And President Obama called Lugar “a friend and a colleague” while expressing his “deep appreciation for Dick Lugar’s distinguished service in the U.S. Senate.”
Mourdock and his backers spent more than $2.7 million to defeat Lugar, who, along with his allies, forked over $3.3 million to lose badly—but his campaign still had $1.8 million in the bank at the end of April. Mourdock’s 22-point victory clearly came as a shock.
“I’m a little bit sad that he would be beaten, and disappointed,” said former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, who two months ago had predicted to The Daily Beast that his old friend Dick Lugar would somehow survive the primary. “He was—is—one of the most brilliant, savvy, articulate guys, and he could do all this stuff without notes.”
Simpson attributed his friend’s downfall to, among other factors, “voter fatigue.”
Former Republican congressman Mark Souder of Indiana said Mourdock assured his victory two weeks ago during a televised debate with Lugar, in which he was articulate, knowledgeable, and even ventured into Lugar’s wheelhouse, foreign policy, without making a mistake. A poll released Friday, in which Mourdock was 10 points ahead, indicated that the debate was an inflection point in the race, with 30 percent of those surveyed moving to an unfavorable opinion of the 36-year incumbent.
Donnelly, 56, a centrist Dem, will attempt to portray Mourdock as this year’s answer to Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell—two Tea Partiers who beat establishment Republicans in the Nevada and Delaware Senate primaries of 2010 but were ultimately judged too extreme and eccentric to win high office. O’Donnell famously ran a television ad in which she stated, “I’m not a witch.”
Or maybe Mourdock is this cycle’s Ken Buck. Even before the Hoosier polls closed, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a press release likening Indiana’s Republican Senate nominee to the loose-lipped Colorado Tea Party candidate who suggested primary voters support him over Lt. Gov. Jane Norton because “I don’t wear high heels.” Buck lost to incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet.
It might difficult, however, to shoehorn Mourdock into the role of Tea Party wacko. A veteran of elective politics, he has won statewide office twice and has run a disciplined Senate campaign with few mistakes.
“I think he will beat Donnelly,” Souder said. But Lugar has already written the opening chapter of the Democrats’ playbook.