What's So Bad About Dick Lugar?

     In psychology, there is the gestalt theory which basically means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  In politics, incumbent Republican Indiana Senator Richard Lugar can probably best exemplify that concept.  Before anyone jump to conclusions and assume this is a defense of Lugar, please read carefully.  According to GovTrack. org, among Republicans, only perennial RINOs Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are to the left of Lugar.  While this may prove a winning strategy for someone with the Republican moniker in Maine, the state of Indiana is a whole other story.

     Looking at the “ratings” of Senators by various special interest groups- both conservative and liberal- one would see little difference between Lugar and other incumbent Senators considerably to the right.  For example, Lugar, Inhofe, Sessions and Vitter all get “0” ratings from NARAL (a pro-choice group), they all get a “5” from the League of Conservation Voters (an environmental group), they all get “100” ratings from the Christian Coalition, they all get “0” from the AFL-CIO, and they all get “A” ratings or above from the NRA.  While it is true Lugar may get a “high” rating from the NEA, a liberal group, so does Inhofe, perhaps the most conservative of this group.  Likewise, Lugar actually gets higher ratings from the National Taxpayer’s Union than Vitter and scores comparable to the other two.  I present this “evidence” to illustrate a very important problem with the candidacy of Richard Lugar.

     That is, Lugar can quantitatively point to certain votes and certain favorable ratings by conservative groups and, conversely, certain negative ratings from liberal groups.  He can use these as examples of his alleged conservative credentials.  However, the perception among conservatives that he is, in fact, not conservative is a major problem that he must overcome.  And for that perception, only Lugar is to blame.  Lugar likes to fancy himself a maverick and a deal broker on Capitol Hill.  In today’s political environment, mavericks do not play well as John McCain learned in 2008.

     Despite touting the “0” rating from NARAL or the 100 rating from the Christian Coalition, Lugar needs to overcome the perception that he is too bipartisan to the point of abandoning conservative ideals.  Prior to his well-publicized problems with the Tea Party in Indiana, there were rumblings about Lugar in conservative circles that should have served as warning signs, especially for a veteran of the Senate since 1976.  One would think he accumulated enough political acumen to read the tea leaves (no pun intended).  Many have pointed to his insistence of the START treaty during the lame duck Congress in 2010 as the breaking point.  To the best of my understanding, the Tea Party has not taken stances on foreign policy issues- that they are more concerned with fiscal conservatism, smaller government and a more principled, constitutional form of governing.  That is, START was not the cause of the disagreements with the Tea Party.  Personally, I did not believe the dire consequences of non-ratification by the lame duck Congress that Hillary Clinton and other Obama administration people were yelling all over Capitol Hill.  I believed a matter as important as a treaty with Russia could have waited until the new Congress was sworn in.  Also, his frequent tendency to cross the aisle concerning Democratic Supreme Court nominees is grating.  For a veteran of the Senate since 1976, he is somewhat naive here.  Thinking that playing footsies with the liberal Democrats in the Senate will result in them backing off conservative/Republican nominees is political naivete at its apex.  To wit, he needs only look at Democratic/liberal treatment of well-qualified nominees like Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, John Roberts and Alito.  To me, Lugar could gain some credibility by reaching over and smacking the smug look off the face of such pre-eiminent “experts” as Joe Biden and Pat Leahy (sarcasm intended).

      The bottom line is that although Lugar can point to his alleged “overall” conservative credentials, too many times in too many areas, Lugar has actually acted like anything but a conservative.  Today, he seems to be living a self-fulfilling prophecy of “bipartisanship.”    As I said earlier, that may play well in Maine, but not Indiana.  Perhaps the only thing Lugar has in his favor is that in 2010, Republicans made gains in Indiana with essentially no or tangential Tea Party support.  However, to assume that because they were not major players in Indiana in 2010 does not mean that will be true in 2012.  On the flip side, perhaps Lugar is the dinosaur from a by-gone era in the Senate and it is time that he be swept from office.  It does not bode well for somewhat not viewed as conservative by conservatives in a conservative state.  Bayh got out before he was swept from the Senate.  This race may very well be a test of the strength and power of the Tea Party if not nationally, then certainly in Indiana.  Regardless, it is incumbent upon Republicans to let the citizens of Indiana have their say and once they do, it is imperative that Republicans defend this seat in the Senate.  Time will tell whether Richard Mourdock is the real deal.  He will have to overcome Lugar’s impressive war chest and it may pit the party establishment against Tea Party operatives.  Whatever the outcome, hopefully the party establishment, should they lose, will not pull a Delaware 2010 and essentially abandon the Republican candidate.