Lugar defeat shows the Tea Party is alive and well

US Senator Richard Lugar outside a polling station in Greenwood, Indiana 8 May 2012 Senator Richard Lugar was known for his ability to reach compromises and had specialised in national security issues

When Ronald Reagan won the White House for the Republicans, the conservative columnist George Will joked that Barry Goldwater had won the 1964 election after all - it had taken 16 years to count the votes.

You might say today that the firebrand conservative Barry "extremism-in-the-defence-of-liberty-is-no-vice" Goldwater has now won his campaign to purge his party of moderates, it has just taken him 48 years longer than he had hoped.

It is commonplace around Washington to hear people - mainly Democrats, but not exclusively - bemoan the passing of bipartisan politicians of days gone by.

They are thinking of people like Senator Richard Lugar who lost his primary election against a Tea Party candidate, and so lost the seat he had held for 38 years.

He was a gentleman from another era: careful, considered, rather old-fashioned, happy to behave like an elder statesman, someone who deliberately sought agreement rather than tried to exaggerate differences.

Reaching across the aisle

You can see the scale of the problem he had made for himself when you consider the two politicians who first rushed to praise him.

There was Democratic Senator John Kerry, who called his deselection a "tragedy".

He went on: "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 bipartisan work is respected and rewarded.

"That kind of seriousness of purpose should never go out of fashion."

Then President Barack Obama, the man many Tea Party supporters believe is putting America in mortal danger, called him a friend and said: "I found during my time in the Senate that he was often willing to reach across the aisle and get things done.

"My administration's efforts to secure the world's most dangerous weapons has been based on the work that Senator Lugar began, as well as the bipartisan co-operation we forged during my first overseas trip as Senator to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan."

Mr Lugar would delight in such praise. That is how he damned himself.

Indeed, one of his opponent's campaigning lines was that Mr Lugar had been called President Obama's favourite Republican. He promised he would never earn that soubriquet.

The new masters

It is why talk of the Tea Party waning is nonsense. It may not have the presidential candidate it wants, but only because there was no such individual.

Broadly speaking, it now has the policies it wants, the Republican Party it wants and the adversarial style of politics it wants.

Politico quotes one Tea Party leader, Greg Fettig: "The message to the establishment is, 'You're our servants. We're the masters. Do what you're supposed to do, adhere to the constitution, or we'll fire you.'"

Death by deselection was a familiar fate to Labour politicians in the 1970s, at the hands of the left.

Here it is the right who are using internal party democracy to purify their party.

There are many reasons why the conservatives have seized control of the Republican Party.

But at least part of the answer is a simple historical trend. The US party system has taken an immense amount of time to escape the distorting legacy of civil war and segregation.

The long process of becoming normal parties of left and right began in the 1900s and is not quite complete more than a century later. The trouble is that the American system does not function without good will and agreement.

If you think you have seen gridlock, just wait and watch Goldwater's final victory.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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US Presidential Election 2012


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  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Entropic man (133),

    "#100 Chryses

    For my evidence see #59"

    LOL! Evidence for what? That the Chinese GDP per capita is a fraction of that of the U.S., UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Japan ... well you get the idea, don’t you? Yes, your evidence that the average Chinese citizen is poor is convincing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Exile Uncle Sam (134),

    “... I read more than 10 but less 20 Chomsky books
    but not the Chomsky I left you
    Chomsky is anti-semantic anti-propaganda”

    I thought you were unfamiliar with the subject material. Now we know you are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    121 MidwesternSue RE: 47
    “Indiana is not part of the Bible belt, which term is reserved to the states below the Mason-Dixon line.” I had been told, long ago, that southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were more southern in culture than the northern parts of those states. I assumed that included Bible belting. To what extent is it true if at all?

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    118. MidwesternSue "[Lugar] will be sorely missed. I spent yesterday grieving his loss."

    I posted a memorial to Republicans like Everett Dirksen who could reach across the aisle and make the government work. The no compromise disrespect for opponents is destroying the country. We seem to agree on that.

  • Comment number 138.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Lugar basically didn't go negative. The governor didn't go negative for him. The Democratic National Committee will have no such limitations and it will all be over very quickly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    #136 Midwestern Sue

    I hope you are right. You probably understand your own political system a lot better than I do.
    From a UK perspective the prospects do not look rosy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    133:Entropic man:It's only when both parties put forward extremists at the same time that nothing will get done in the government. At least here Mr. Donnelly is a moderate whose focus for the past few years has been jobs and helping veterans. I get his weekly e-mail and that's what's always in it.

  • Comment number 134.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    #100 Chryses

    For my evidence see #59

    #109 MidwesternSue

    If both parties are drifting away from the centre , it probably wont matter which of them wins the White House; nothing will get done anyway.

    Lots of points being scored off me. Good debate!

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    on behalf of the county governments and was owed to them. 2 weeks ago Gov. Daniels came out in strong support of Lugar over STATE TREASURER Mourdock, who is at best incompetent. The fact that he still won due to all the out of state TP stupidity funding just means someone wanted to switch the seat to the Democratic column.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    This will give us a moderate Dem. Senator in the fall because Joe Donnelly is a Blue Dog Democrat and because:

    Last year the state discovered $200m that they had no idea where it came from. We thought we had a huge surplus in state funds until 3 weeks ago when the state discovered that virtually all of that money was from estimated state taxes collected throughout last year. cont.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    102, 103:KScurmudgeon:No, Lugar was an example of someone who tried to do what was best for the country and for the people. We should have kept him in office. Lugar was doing the people's business.

  • Comment number 129.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    77:Dan: Mr. Lugar's understanding of how to get around the system was impressive, and only got better with time, like fine wine.

    88:Entropic man:No, the Russians helped Vietnam defeat the US. Vietnam then defeated China when China attacked them.

    89:Interestedforeigner:He should but won't run as an Independent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    "Indonesian officials say a helicopter has spotted what is thought to be wreckage of the Russian Sukhoi Superjet plane that disappeared on Wednesday after taking off from Jakarta for a brief demonstration flight.
    Sukhoi aimed to sell 42 of its planes to Indonesia." (BBC)

    Truly sorry. :-(

  • Comment number 126.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    72:d_m:I believe they should borrow as much money as necessary to loan to small businesses in exchange for those businesses hiring Americans. That would improve the economy. And they should raise taxes on companies who export jobs. And they should lower the amount of interest credit cards can charge consumers so that it is more beneficial for banks to lend to businesses than to individuals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    67:emintey:Federalism is not dead. Civility on the part of 3rd parties funding political races is, however. Lugar's loss is emblematic of that.

    70:powermeerkat:No, states bordering Mexico should not have to act to protect their territory. That they would appear to have to do so shows a problem at the federal level. And individuals should NOT be taking the law into their own hands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    "China's export and import growth slowed in April raising fears about a sharp slowdown in its economy and triggering calls for monetary policy easing.

    Exports rose by 4.9% in April from a year earlier, down from the 8.9% annual growth seen in the previous month, a sign that global demand may be slowing." (BBC)

    Sorry about it, Entropy Man. Entropy is increasing.

    As always. ;-)


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