Dick Lugar

The holy crusade that movement conservatives undertook against Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst concluded with Tuesday’s Senate runoff, producing his once-unlikely defeat at the hands of his much-celebrated Tea Party challenger, former state solicitor general Ted Cruz.* What makes the election so interesting is that Dewhurst, who has been denounced from one end of the conservative blogosphere to the other as a “RINO” and as “Dewcrist,” can’t really be accused of any specific ideological heresies.

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Pity Dick Lugar. Not only was he resoundingly rejected by Republican voters in the state he had served for decades, but he has not received anything close to the kind of valedictory from the Washington establishment that one might have expected for one of his reputation. Consider: when Evan Bayh announced that he would not run for reelection in 2010, the conservative Democrat from Indiana inspired all manner of Beltway laments.

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Richard Lugar’s loss in Tuesday night’s primary has been heralded by commenters on both sides of the aisle as a harbinger of doom for moderate Republicans. The conventional wisdom has quickly congealed: Lugar lost because he voted for Barack Obama’s Supreme Court candidates, worked with Obama on an arms control treaty, and was generally not partisan enough for a GOP dominated by the Tea Party. That interpretation is plausible. But it’s not the only, or even the most likely scenario.

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In 2010, John Danforth, a former Republican Senator from Missouri, was asked about the possibility of a GOP primary challenge to Indiana Senator Richard Lugar. Danforth pointed out that Lugar was a six-term Senator, one of the Senate’s most respected members, and its leading authority on foreign policy. He warned that “If Dick Lugar … is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.” Many commentators will draw precisely that message from Lugar’s defeat Tuesday night by his Tea Party-aligned challenger Richard Mourdock.

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If you were trying to get a handle on what the Senate will look like over the next decade or so, you could have done worse than watch Richard Mourdock and Joe Donnelly make the rounds on television Wednesday morning. Mourdock is, of course, the man who just ousted Indiana’s longtime eminence, Dick Lugar, from the Senate. Donnelly is the Democratic congressman he’ll be facing in November. Mourdock fulminated against everything Lugar stood for—namely bipartisanship and civility in politics, but also the auto bailouts that saved tens of thousands of Indiana jobs.

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At the annual meeting of the Community of Democracies last month in Lithuania, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck a characteristic note of cautious idealism in support of Internet users living under repressive governments: “Because technology both empowers and endangers your work, we are giving activists new tools to try to circumvent the many obstacles that governments are putting in your way.” In a February speech Clinton gave at George Washington University, she said roughly the same thing: “There is a debate currently underway in some circles about whether the Internet is a force

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There seems to be no dignified end for the Republican Senator facing a right-wing primary challenge. Arlen Specter took the best shot he had to survive: cut a deal to switch parties. It didn't work, and he lost in the Democratic primary. Orrin Hatch is desperately sucking up to a bunch of low-level whackos in Utah. Olympia Snowe is furiously moving right, even blocking her own small business bill. Now Dick Lugar is opposing the DREAM Act, which he co-sponsored in the last Congress, on the grounds that it's now been "politicized." Hatch and Snowe have at least a small chance to survive.

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When you see a primary challenge against a long-time member of Congress, the incumbent usually enjoys the advantage of at least nominal support from the party establishment.

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Conservative Crosshairs

Republicans are poised to take over the U.S. Senate in 2012. This isn't contingent on a GOP presidential win, or even a particularly good campaign year, but rather on the extremely tilted Senate playing field created by the 2006 Democratic landslide. Yet, oddly, that is no comfort for many sitting Republican senators, who may face savage primary challenges if they are even perceived to slight the conservative base.

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