Commentary Magazine


Topic: Richard Mourdock

Another GOP Politician Falls into Akin’s Trap

I have some common-sense, but apparently very sorely needed, advice for Republican lawmakers: You have one position and one position only on rape: it is bad. That’s it. If anyone asks you, you say it is a tragedy that no woman (or man, for that matter) should live through and your prayers go out to victims. Many on the right are, justifiably, frustrated that reporters continue to ask questions of candidates and lawmakers on rape, but, in the media’s defense, when Republicans keep giving answers as stupid as those of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, it’s hard to blame them.

Unfortunately for Republicans, another lawmaker has weighed in the rape issue, this time Representative Phil Gingrey of Georgia. The Marietta Daily Journal reports: 

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I have some common-sense, but apparently very sorely needed, advice for Republican lawmakers: You have one position and one position only on rape: it is bad. That’s it. If anyone asks you, you say it is a tragedy that no woman (or man, for that matter) should live through and your prayers go out to victims. Many on the right are, justifiably, frustrated that reporters continue to ask questions of candidates and lawmakers on rape, but, in the media’s defense, when Republicans keep giving answers as stupid as those of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, it’s hard to blame them.

Unfortunately for Republicans, another lawmaker has weighed in the rape issue, this time Representative Phil Gingrey of Georgia. The Marietta Daily Journal reports: 

“And in Missouri, Todd Akin … was asked by a local news source about rape and he said, ‘Look, in a legitimate rape situation’ — and what he meant by legitimate rape was just look, someone can say I was raped: a scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents, that’s pretty tough and might on some occasion say, ‘Hey, I was raped.’ That’s what he meant when he said legitimate rape versus non-legitimate rape. I don’t find anything so horrible about that. But then he went on and said that in a situation of rape, of a legitimate rape, a woman’s body has a way of shutting down so the pregnancy would not occur. He’s partly right on that.”

Gingrey pointed out that he had been an OB-GYN since 1975.

“And I’ve delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true. We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, ‘Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don’t be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.’ So he was partially right wasn’t he? But the fact that a woman may have already ovulated 12 hours before she is raped, you’re not going to prevent a pregnancy there by a woman’s body shutting anything down because the horse has already left the barn, so to speak. And yet the media took that and tore it apart.”

In all three instances, Republican lawmakers were trying their best to justify their opposition to abortion in the cases of rape and incest. The media’s double standard here is clear. While Akin, Mourdock and Gingrey and other Republicans have been asked to defend their positions, Democrats with equally “extreme” positions on abortion never are. During the last election, Paul Ryan was repeatedly asked to explain his stance on abortion in the instances of rape and incest by a hostile media anxious to trap the vice presidential candidate in the same “gotcha” moment that ended Akin’s and Mourdock’s runs for the Senate. Fortunately for the national ticket, Ryan stuck to a very rehearsed and well-thought out script each and every time he was asked and started to sound like a broken record on the subject by the end of the campaign. His Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden, was given a pass on favorable comments made in China about their one-child policy (that is often enforced by forced abortions and infanticide). President Obama’s incredibly controversial votes on the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act were also ignored by a media set out to trap Republicans fumbling over the issue of rape and abortion.

While this media double standard is incredibly unfair to Republicans, the deck has been stacked in this manner (against Republican candidates and politicians) for some time. It’s time for Republicans to practice the restraint that Rep. Paul Ryan did during the most recent election and decide on a script and stick to it. Continuing to talk off the cuff about abortion and rape has already sunk the careers of two senatorial candidates. One would think other Republicans would have learned from their mistake. 

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The NRSC’s Big Problem

Sen. John Cornyn, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued the following statement after last night’s Senate defeats (via Politico):

We had many hard-fought races tonight and I’m proud to welcome several new Republicans to the Senate, particularly my fellow Texan Ted Cruz.   

But it’s clear that with our losses in the Presidential race, and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party.  While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight.  Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.

Politico’s Alexander Burns adds:

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Sen. John Cornyn, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued the following statement after last night’s Senate defeats (via Politico):

We had many hard-fought races tonight and I’m proud to welcome several new Republicans to the Senate, particularly my fellow Texan Ted Cruz.   

But it’s clear that with our losses in the Presidential race, and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party.  While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight.  Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.

Politico’s Alexander Burns adds:

The combination of Senate losses with Romney’s loss is part of what makes this election so difficult for Republicans to explain. If it had just been Romney who went down in defeat, well, that could be a problem with one candidate and one campaign. Similarly, if just one or two Republican primaries had produced weak nominees, those could have been flukes.

But we’re looking tonight at a national election in which the GOP failed to take advantage of enormous political opportunities on multiple levels, following a 2010 cycle in which Senate Republicans underperformed. Cornyn doesn’t say what exactly the work is that Republicans have to do in the “weeks and months ahead,” but much as Democrats concluded after 2004, it’s clear that something has to be done.

Something is obviously very wrong when the GOP lost ground in a year when Democrats were defending 23 seats and Republicans just 10. Cornyn and the NRSC will get the brunt of the blame, and they deserve some of it. They lost races that were close: George Allen in Virginia, Rick Berg in North Dakota, and Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

But some of the big losses were out of their control. After the blowback the NRSC received during the Tea Party wave in 2010, the committee stopped endorsing and openly funding primary candidates in open seats. That made it easier for an unfit candidate like Todd Akin to win the Republican nomination. There also wasn’t much the NRSC could have done about Richard Mourdock. While his poorly-worded comments about rape and abortion weren’t as outrageous as they were characterized in the media, they drew outsized attention because of the Akin controversy. And as for Olympia Snowe, the NRSC had no control over her retirement.

Still, there clearly needs to be a change, and Mike Allen reports on what that might look like:

Richard “Mourdock [in Indiana] and [Todd] Akin [in Missouri] join [Christine] O’Donnell, [Sharron] Angle, and [Ken] Buck as candidates that are embarrassingly not ready for the scrutiny of a Senate election. High-level operatives have already begun studying after-action reports to make a change in the business model to address this problem for next cycle.”

Most likely solution: Enlist conservative outside groups to try to steer electable candidates toward nomination.

Sort of like a shadow Republican Senatorial Committee. It would make it more difficult for an unprepared or unelectable candidate to win the nomination, without ruffling the grassroots.

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Romney Closes Gender Gap

Remember that Obama campaign memo a few weeks back that insisted the president was having no problems with women voters? About that:

Less than two weeks out from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney has erased President Barack Obama’s 16-point advantage among women, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. And the president, in turn, has largely eliminated Romney’s edge among men.

Those churning gender dynamics leave the presidential race still a virtual dead heat, with Romney favored by 47 percent of likely voters and Obama by 45 percent, a result within the poll’s margin of sampling error, the survey shows.

Fortunately for Democrats, Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s controversial comments about abortion gave Obama an opportunity to rehash his favorite “war on women” arguments on Jay Leno last night:

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Remember that Obama campaign memo a few weeks back that insisted the president was having no problems with women voters? About that:

Less than two weeks out from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney has erased President Barack Obama’s 16-point advantage among women, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. And the president, in turn, has largely eliminated Romney’s edge among men.

Those churning gender dynamics leave the presidential race still a virtual dead heat, with Romney favored by 47 percent of likely voters and Obama by 45 percent, a result within the poll’s margin of sampling error, the survey shows.

Fortunately for Democrats, Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s controversial comments about abortion gave Obama an opportunity to rehash his favorite “war on women” arguments on Jay Leno last night:

“I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas,” Obama said in an appearance on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” Wednesday. “Let me make a very simple proposition, rape is rape. It is a crime. And so these various distinctions about rape don’t make too much sense to me, don’t make any sense to me.” … 

“This is exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women’s health care decisions,” he told Leno, without mentioning Romney by name. “Women are capable of making these decisions in consultation with their partners, with their doctors, and for politicians to want to intrude in this stuff often times without any information is a huge problem. And this is obviously a part of what’s at stake in this election.”

There’s no defense for Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comment (“even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen”), which was at best poorly-phrased and at worst stunningly insensitive. Whatever his stance on abortion or religious views, a potential senator should know better than to publicly muse that rape is just part of God’s plan.

That said, Obama’s characterization of the comment is unfair and misleading. Mourdock never suggested that rape wasn’t rape, or that it wasn’t a crime. To say Mourdock came to his position on abortion because he doesn’t believe “women are capable of making these decisions” is another straw man. Like most pro-lifers, his views are based on religious and moral convictions, not misogyny.

Will Obama’s “war on women” revival move the dial? Maybe, but Molly Ball’s report seems to indicate undecided women voters see these transparent political tactics for what they are. If a full year of this rhetoric hasn’t turned women against Romney, it’s hard to imagine Obama’s last-minute push will make a difference.

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Should Mourdock Get the Akin Treatment?

As Jonathan mentioned earlier, if on November 7 the Republicans find themselves still in the minority in the Senate, they will have two people to thank: Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana. Both candidates, in the midst of their election campaigns, made incredibly ill-advised comments on their beliefs about exemptions for abortion in the case of rape.

Akin’s comments in late August received overwhelming condemnation–and quickly–as Republicans across the country called for his immediate withdrawal. In August I wrote about how Republicans, unlike Democrats, were quick to ask a candidate to withdraw their candidacy after ignorant and offensive comments were made. Akin remains a pariah with very little assistance either financially or otherwise from Republicans or conservative leaders, while Joe Biden (who has made something of a sport out of making offensive pronouncements) proudly maintains his position on President Obama’s ticket. 

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As Jonathan mentioned earlier, if on November 7 the Republicans find themselves still in the minority in the Senate, they will have two people to thank: Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana. Both candidates, in the midst of their election campaigns, made incredibly ill-advised comments on their beliefs about exemptions for abortion in the case of rape.

Akin’s comments in late August received overwhelming condemnation–and quickly–as Republicans across the country called for his immediate withdrawal. In August I wrote about how Republicans, unlike Democrats, were quick to ask a candidate to withdraw their candidacy after ignorant and offensive comments were made. Akin remains a pariah with very little assistance either financially or otherwise from Republicans or conservative leaders, while Joe Biden (who has made something of a sport out of making offensive pronouncements) proudly maintains his position on President Obama’s ticket. 

Many Republicans have already disavowed Mourdock’s comments, including Mitt Romney and Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. There are some high-powered Republicans that have refused to do so this time around, Texas Senator John Cornyn of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) being one. Why have Republicans not given Richard Mourdock the Todd Akin treatment and thrown his candidacy under the bus? Why have some prominent Republicans even defended his remarks?

There is a clear difference between Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, as candidates and as pro-lifers. Akin was already a troubled candidate with a campaign that is run, to an inappropriate degree, by inexperienced members of his family. Akin’s comments showcased a shocking degree of ignorance on how the human body and female reproductive system operates. To refresh your memory, he told a St. Louis television station, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” While Akin, like Mourdock, is in favor of banning abortions except to save the life of the mother, Akin seemed to believe that the issue was moot–that a woman could not get pregnant after a rape because her body, somehow, had the ability to form a distinction between a consensual and a non-consensual sexual encounter. After the comments, Akin’s candidacy appeared to be in a free-fall, as it seemed that parts of his campaign were incommunicative with others. Media appearances, like one scheduled for Larry King, were canceled at the last minute, while other interviews, like one that took place on Sean Hannity’s radio show, were absolutely painful to listen to and should have never been scheduled by his campaign without more rehersal and preparation. 

Mourdock’s comments were, in contrast, consistent with the overall position of pro-life Christians that every life, regardless of how it is created, is sacred, loved by God, and deserves protection. During the debate last night Mourdock stated, “I just struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize: Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” The outrage is, rightfully, centered on the second half of that comment where it seems to indicate that Mourdock believes that a rape is an event that is preordained by God. Before noon on the east coast, Mourdock held a press conference to discuss his comments and clarify his position on the theological underpinnings of his pro-life stance, stating that he believes that he in no way supports rape and that it is a violent and inexcusable act. The response from the Mourdock campaign, having the candidate immediately and publicly clarify his statements to the press, was nothing like the chaotic and unprofessional reaction of the Akin campaign. 

A candidate should never have to clarify their position on rape, nor should they have to hold a press conference to tell the world that they don’t believe that a rape is an act of God two weeks before election day. Especially after the furor that lasted for several weeks over Todd Akin’s statements, Richard Mourdock should have been expecting a “gotcha” question at some point in his candidacy, considering his position on rape and incest exemptions. While Mourdock’s comments aren’t in the same league as Akin’s, unfortunately for the GOP, that won’t stop the comparisons, however inaccurate. With two weeks to go before an election that was already a toss up, it might be too late for Mourdock or Republicans to correct the narrative in time to save the seat or their hopes of a GOP majority in the Senate.

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Did Mourdock Just Lose the Senate?

Republican hopes for taking back the Senate this year have absorbed a variety of blows in the past several months. Olympia Snowe’s retirement and Todd Akin’s comments about pregnancy and rape dramatically reduced the chances of a GOP takeover. But Richard Mourdock’s saying that a pregnancy caused by rape is something that God intended to happen may have been the coup de grace. Here’s the quote from an answer to a question about his opposition to even the rape exception on abortion:

I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

Mourdock, who toppled longtime moderate GOP incumbent Richard Lugar in a Republican primary, was locked in an unexpectedly tight race with Democrat Joe Donnelly even before last night. Donnelly has benefited from Lugar’s petulant refusal to endorse Mourdock, something that fed the perception that the Republican was a Tea Party extremist. But saying something that could be interpreted as meaning that he believed God intended rape to happen could tip the balance in the election. The loss of the Indiana seat would make it almost impossible for the Republicans to get to 50 or 51 even if they were able to pull off upsets in Ohio and Connecticut and hold onto Scott Brown’s endangered Massachusetts seat.

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Republican hopes for taking back the Senate this year have absorbed a variety of blows in the past several months. Olympia Snowe’s retirement and Todd Akin’s comments about pregnancy and rape dramatically reduced the chances of a GOP takeover. But Richard Mourdock’s saying that a pregnancy caused by rape is something that God intended to happen may have been the coup de grace. Here’s the quote from an answer to a question about his opposition to even the rape exception on abortion:

I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

Mourdock, who toppled longtime moderate GOP incumbent Richard Lugar in a Republican primary, was locked in an unexpectedly tight race with Democrat Joe Donnelly even before last night. Donnelly has benefited from Lugar’s petulant refusal to endorse Mourdock, something that fed the perception that the Republican was a Tea Party extremist. But saying something that could be interpreted as meaning that he believed God intended rape to happen could tip the balance in the election. The loss of the Indiana seat would make it almost impossible for the Republicans to get to 50 or 51 even if they were able to pull off upsets in Ohio and Connecticut and hold onto Scott Brown’s endangered Massachusetts seat.

At the debate, Mourdock immediately understood that he had blundered and tried to explain that he didn’t mean that God wanted women to be raped:

God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does.

But that may have been too late. While his comment is really not in the same category as Todd Akin’s mind-boggling stupidity about women’s bodies shutting down during “legitimate rape,” it will be easily compared to it. No amount of explanation will prevent the Democrats from coupling him with Akin as a pair of Neanderthal Republicans who hate women and want them to suffer pregnancy as a result of rape.

In his defense, Mourdock’s position is based in a moral imperative that sees the life of a child conceived by rape as being no less important than that of one conceived by consensual sex. If you believe life begins at conception, then life is life–regardless of the circumstances. That is not a position even most of those who are morally opposed to abortion can stomach, but it is one that is based in logic. Nor is it the product of misogynist superstition such as Akin’s foolishness.

But by bringing God’s will into the equation, Mourdock opened himself up to an entirely different line of attack that could be just as damaging. If he had held a large lead over Donnelly, such as the one Akin had over unpopular incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri, he might have survived this kerfuffle, let the Democrats make what they could of it. But since the race was already a tossup, it’s hard to see how Donnelly can avoid pulling ahead in the coming days.

That creates a situation where even Mitt Romney’s coattails — assuming he has any — won’t be enough to win the Republicans the four seats they need to become a majority in the Senate. This means that even if Romney is elected and the Republicans hold the House of Representatives, the repeal of ObamaCare is going to need some Democratic support in the Senate. If the repeal effort fails, the two seats the GOP appears to be losing as a result of the issue of rape and pregnancy will loom large in the history of this chapter of political history.

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Moderate Dems Keep Quietly Disappearing

When outgoing GOP Senator Richard Lugar lost his primary election to Richard Mourdock earlier this year, there was an unusual amount of disingenuous garment rending over the supposed death of bipartisanship due to the increasingly conservative nature of the Republican Party.

Yet there will be no sad songs for outgoing Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler. While the media was focused on the dwindling of moderate Republicans, they missed the fact that pro-life Democrats and moderate Democrats virtually disappeared completely. Yet Shuler’s retirement from Congress is notable in that he was the last remaining Democrat willing to challenge Nancy Pelosi. And his defeat at the hands of my-way-or-the-highway liberalism should have been a far bigger story—if the media’s concerns were at all honest—than the defeat of an eighty-year-old officeholder.

Politico reports that on his way out the door, Shuler shows actual concern for bipartisanship:

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When outgoing GOP Senator Richard Lugar lost his primary election to Richard Mourdock earlier this year, there was an unusual amount of disingenuous garment rending over the supposed death of bipartisanship due to the increasingly conservative nature of the Republican Party.

Yet there will be no sad songs for outgoing Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler. While the media was focused on the dwindling of moderate Republicans, they missed the fact that pro-life Democrats and moderate Democrats virtually disappeared completely. Yet Shuler’s retirement from Congress is notable in that he was the last remaining Democrat willing to challenge Nancy Pelosi. And his defeat at the hands of my-way-or-the-highway liberalism should have been a far bigger story—if the media’s concerns were at all honest—than the defeat of an eighty-year-old officeholder.

Politico reports that on his way out the door, Shuler shows actual concern for bipartisanship:

“I was hoping I’d see more of the ‘We are America’ team. What I’ve seen instead is divisiveness. It’s an us vs. them mentality, Democrat vs. Republican, liberals vs. conservatives. And I would really have liked to [have] seen more of an ‘about America’ mind-set,’” he said. “So often up here, I feel like a kindergarten teacher separating two children from fighting over crayons. It’s because the maturity level is on that level sometimes.”

Shuler’s remedy to get over the bickering: Make members live in Washington, eat dinner together and spend more time getting to know one another.

Since Pelosi and President Obama famously dislike even talking to Republicans, and since Harry Reid has chosen to bring Senate business to a halt rather than let Republicans take part in the democratic process, that’s probably not going to happen. Nor is it likely that the media will mourn a dissenting Democratic voice, which they generally view as a nuisance.

But Shuler’s quiet retirement is a good opportunity for conservatives to realize that if they thought the Pelosi-Reid Democrats were hostile to working with them when Shuler and Joe Lieberman were still in office, they’ve probably only witnessed the beginning of the Democrats’ relentless partisanship.

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Lugar Proves His Critics Right

Richard Mourdock’s decisive Republican primary victory over six-term Indiana Senator Richard Lugar was fretted by the D.C. foreign-policy establishment as yet another death knell for comity in Washington. But it turned out that it was Lugar, not Mourdock, who eschewed civility and grace with an angry and bitter response to the election.

Politico reports that time has not yet healed Lugar’s wounds or his ego. In his last months in the Senate, he has turned his attention to cementing his legacy abroad while Mourdock is locked in a close, and “costly,” general election fight. It’s true that Lugar has left at least one important legacy: his efforts, along with Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, to gain control of the collapsing Soviet Union’s nuclear material. But that was two decades ago, and in the foreign policy community the phrase “Nunn-Lugar” is a household term, and as such his legacy is in no need, and arguably cannot even really benefit, from his farewell tour. Instead, there is another legacy Lugar can cement in the coming months, and it isn’t a good one. From Politico:

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Richard Mourdock’s decisive Republican primary victory over six-term Indiana Senator Richard Lugar was fretted by the D.C. foreign-policy establishment as yet another death knell for comity in Washington. But it turned out that it was Lugar, not Mourdock, who eschewed civility and grace with an angry and bitter response to the election.

Politico reports that time has not yet healed Lugar’s wounds or his ego. In his last months in the Senate, he has turned his attention to cementing his legacy abroad while Mourdock is locked in a close, and “costly,” general election fight. It’s true that Lugar has left at least one important legacy: his efforts, along with Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, to gain control of the collapsing Soviet Union’s nuclear material. But that was two decades ago, and in the foreign policy community the phrase “Nunn-Lugar” is a household term, and as such his legacy is in no need, and arguably cannot even really benefit, from his farewell tour. Instead, there is another legacy Lugar can cement in the coming months, and it isn’t a good one. From Politico:

Mourdock “will achieve little as a legislator” if he pursues his goal of pushing partisanship in Washington, Lugar wrote in a 1,425-word statement. And he has insisted for months that he has no plans to campaign for Mourdock. In an interview with POLITICO, the lame-duck senator declined to say why he won’t stump for Mourdock or whether the nominee has even requested his help.

But Lugar recently told an Indiana blogger: “I’ve not been a factor in the campaign and I don’t intend to do so.”

This behavior will ensure that Indiana voters won’t regret voting Lugar out no matter how the general election turns out. Lugar’s behavior has, in fact, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that voters’ complaints about Lugar were spot-on, and Lugar’s defenders way off the mark.

The two most common complaints about Lugar were that he has become too comfortable and embedded in D.C. culture and far removed from those he is supposed to represent, and that he no longer possesses loyalty to the Republican Party—something that may earn him bipartisan plaudits from the media and his peers in Washington, but which would certainly concern, if not perturb, Republican Party voters to whom Lugar owes his cozy spot in the nation’s capital.

Lugar’s bitterness and refusal to help the candidate voters chose to serve in his place has shown the very sense of entitlement and disregard for the wishes of the voters that elites often settle into. And Lugar’s decision not to help his state party’s Senate candidate, in a year in which any race could theoretically make the difference between a Democratic Senate and a Republican one, shows that he does not feel any obligation to help his party. It doesn’t much matter to him whether a Democrat or Republican wins in November. The “No Labels” crowd loves this sort of thing, but it proves correct the Republican voters who sensed they were becoming indistinguishable, in Lugar’s mind, from their Democratic counterparts.

Lugar’s foreign-policy experience is something the GOP, whose congressional candidates are getting ever younger and focused on fiscal issues, should not dismiss in and of itself. Indeed, both parties will always need experienced hands on deck. But the policies matter too. We’re a long way from Nunn-Lugar, and despite that policy’s success Lugar can’t expect to trade on that legacy forever. And the presence of John Kerry at the helm of the Senate’s foreign relations business shows that some lifelong senators never learn a thing, no matter how much time they spend on Capitol Hill.

Lugar may have been hailed by his peers as a model of civility in an increasingly uncivil age, but he is now establishing a second legacy—as a man of dispiriting bitterness, entitlement, and haughty elitism who simply cannot let go.

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The Media’s Apocalyptic Vision of Richard Mourdock

Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.

Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.

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Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.

Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.

Salon, for example, carries a story titled “Republican Party: Hawks-only club.” The article details how Mourdock’s victory makes the GOP uniformly hawkish on foreign policy. Most of the article is an explanation of why liberals liked Lugar so much, but finally the author gives us the damage: “In practical terms, Lugar’s loss means that U.S. foreign policy will be less civilized, less responsible and less effective.”

I noticed something was missing from this article, however: it omits any mention whatsoever of Richard Mourdock’s views on foreign policy. This is a rather glaring omission, but maybe the reporter’s instincts are right.

To find out, let’s head on over to an expert on foreign policy, Tom Ricks. Ricks maintains a blog on Foreign Policy’s website, and sure enough he weighed in on Mourdock’s victory. He, too, was horrified by the erosion of the foreign policy center. But he has a somewhat different take on what it means. Mourdock’s victory, Ricks admits, “makes me wonder if the great Midwest is turning away from internationalism and back to its pre-World War II isolationism.”

So Salon was wrong? Mourdock is the opposite of a hawkish hawk? He’s actually an isolationist? I wondered what led Ricks to this conclusion, but his post didn’t help me answer that question, because Ricks doesn’t even mention Mourdock’s name, let alone Mourdock’s views on foreign policy.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Reporters sometimes trick politicians into revealing what they think by employing an age-old tactic commonly referred to as “asking them questions.” It turns out that some reporters did. Richard Mourdock, as a supporter of cutting the Pentagon’s budget and skeptical of the mission in Afghanistan, is not a superhawk, as Salon would have it. But he also believes America plays an important role in the world, and that it must not retreat from its responsibilities around the globe. So he isn’t an isolationist either.

But if he’s starting to sound like a mainstream candidate, he’s got you fooled. Richard Mourdock is, according to the sandwich board Jonathan Chait has been wearing around town, the harbinger of doom. This is an interesting point of view coming from Chait, who is the author of the magnum opus of leftist anti-intellectualism and anthem of paranoid incivility, “Mad About You: The Case for Bush Hatred.” Some things have changed since Chait published his plea for incivility–namely, we have a Democratic president. So now it’s time to protect “social norms”–specifically, he says, court-related social norms permitting the confirmation of a president’s court picks. Mourdock cited Lugar’s support for President Obama’s Supreme Court picks in his case against the incumbent senator, mirroring a Republican approach to politics that is, in Chait’s view, bringing upon us a “crisis of American government.”

Some have pointed out that the collapse of the nomination process was brought about by Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden when they took a sledgehammer to “social norms” during the confirmation process of Robert Bork. That’s true. But I’d like to defend Chait somewhat. I, too, have been concerned about the collapse of social norms.

For example, it was once a social norm never to use the filibuster against a circuit court nominee. But then George W. Bush nominated Miguel Estrada, an undeniably qualified candidate, to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Democrats were playing the long game, however, and were willing to buck social norms in order to prevent the Republicans from starting a process that would end with a conservative Hispanic judge on the Supreme Court. So they blocked Estrada.

In October 2003, the Associated Press reported that Democrats were preparing to expand their use of the filibuster to everything the GOP put forward. “Perhaps we ought to prepare some bumper stickers that say ‘Obstruction: It’s not just for judges anymore’,” remarked Republican John Cornyn.

More recently, Harry Reid has perfected a tactic called “filling the tree” to prevent Republicans from even being able to offer amendments on bills. Reid and the Democrats are, it turns out, innovators in the means to tear down social norms and prevent the government from functioning as it was intended. In fact, it’s now been more than three years since Reid’s Senate passed a budget.

But hey, at least he didn’t criticize a Democratic nominee who was confirmed anyway. Now that would just be uncivil.

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Primaries Show Obama 2008 is Over

Some liberals are trying to interpret the crushing defeat of six-term Republican Richard Lugar in an Indiana Republican senatorial primary as the creation of an opportunity for the Democrats to steal a GOP seat this fall. But the narrative being promoted today about rabid Tea Party extremists sacrificing another noble Republican moderate shows just how out of touch liberal theorists are with the country. Lugar was the ultimate establishment insider and President Obama’s favorite Republican when he was in the Senate. While there is something to be said for experience, this inveterate compromiser and foreign policy “realist” was a holdover from a bygone era in which members of the senatorial club thought of themselves as operating above and beyond the constraints of normal political life. Which is to say Lugar had outlived his usefulness to the people of Indiana a long time ago.

Equally foolish is the idea that the man who beat him, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, is likely to face the fate of 2010 Republican outliers like Sharon Angle in Nevada or Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, whose extremism cost their parties easy general election victories. Mourdock is an experienced office-holder whose mainstream conservative views make him a perfect match for his state and likely to cruise to victory in the fall. The Mourdock triumph as well as the victory for supporters of traditional marriage in North Carolina is also a reminder that while this year will not be a repeat of the GOP’s midterm tsunami, it is also going to be nothing like 2008 when Obama won both states.

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Some liberals are trying to interpret the crushing defeat of six-term Republican Richard Lugar in an Indiana Republican senatorial primary as the creation of an opportunity for the Democrats to steal a GOP seat this fall. But the narrative being promoted today about rabid Tea Party extremists sacrificing another noble Republican moderate shows just how out of touch liberal theorists are with the country. Lugar was the ultimate establishment insider and President Obama’s favorite Republican when he was in the Senate. While there is something to be said for experience, this inveterate compromiser and foreign policy “realist” was a holdover from a bygone era in which members of the senatorial club thought of themselves as operating above and beyond the constraints of normal political life. Which is to say Lugar had outlived his usefulness to the people of Indiana a long time ago.

Equally foolish is the idea that the man who beat him, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, is likely to face the fate of 2010 Republican outliers like Sharon Angle in Nevada or Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, whose extremism cost their parties easy general election victories. Mourdock is an experienced office-holder whose mainstream conservative views make him a perfect match for his state and likely to cruise to victory in the fall. The Mourdock triumph as well as the victory for supporters of traditional marriage in North Carolina is also a reminder that while this year will not be a repeat of the GOP’s midterm tsunami, it is also going to be nothing like 2008 when Obama won both states.

Though one shouldn’t draw hard and fast conclusions from last night’s primaries, the results in Indiana and North Carolina and even West Virginia should not reassure Democrats. The marriage vote may have cut across party and demographic lines, and the Democratic presidential primary in West Virginia in which a felon currently serving time in federal prison won 40 percent of the vote against Obama in a two-person race tell us nothing about the way these states will vote in the fall. But even the jokey protest vote in West Virginia shows that those empty seats at the president’s campaign kickoffs last weekend are truly an indication of a decline in enthusiasm for his cause.

There’s little question that Obama has an Electoral College advantage over Republican Mitt Romney, as there are more votes to be had in solidly blue states than those that are deep red. But if Republicans are daunted by the prospect of Romney having to come close to running the table of tossup states, the results in Indiana and North Carolina reveal the GOP is well-positioned to take back both in 2012.

While Democrats were crowing about the low turnout in some Republican primaries earlier this year, the fact that more turned out to vote in a virtually uncontested GOP primary for Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin than in a competitive Democratic primary to choose his opponent in a recall election means the president ought not to make any assumptions about Wisconsin either.

As Mourdock’s Indiana victory showed, the Tea Party can’t be dismissed as a caricature of racism and extremism. It has gone mainstream because those who sympathize with it — such as the 60 percent of Republicans who turned out Lugar — are mainstream voters. While the president retains important advantages, the liberal surge fueled by an unpopular war and an economic collapse that sent him to the White House is over. Though 2012 won’t be a repeat of the GOP’s midterm massacre of Democrats, anyone who assumes that Obama can hold Indiana and North Carolina and some other traditionally Republican states he seized four years ago needs to pay better attention to last night’s returns.

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The Senate Will Survive Without Lugar

With polls showing six-term incumbent Republican Senator Richard Lugar to be a heavy underdog in his Indiana primary race with insurgent State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, many in the media are weeping bitter tears about the end of an era in Washington. After six terms in which he has increasingly come to be seen as part of the Senate furniture, it is not surprising that a likely plurality of Indiana voters are ready to turn him out. But to listen to the anguished reaction from pundits who are sympathetic to Lugar, his opponent’s supporters are nothing less than right-wing Jacobins who are sacrificing a sage statesman on the altar of extremism. But as much as that fits the mainstream media’s story line about the evil influence of the Tea Party on American politics, the truth is not quite that dramatic.

Lugar is the ultimate establishmentarian and the voice of conventional wisdom about any conceivable topic–especially foreign policy. He is also well-liked for his reputation for bipartisan cooperation. Though we are told Washington will be the poorer if there are fewer or no Lugars at all, the taxpayers as well as those sick of his knee-jerk foreign policy “realism” must be forgiven if they point out there is a difference between being the ultimate D.C. insider and the sort of politics of integrity we are told he embodies. Far from this being a case where the Tea Partiers are rolling out the guillotine for a brave voice of principle, what is going on in Indiana is merely the inevitable fate of any politician who overstays his welcome while standing for little but the continuation of business as usual on Capitol Hill.

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With polls showing six-term incumbent Republican Senator Richard Lugar to be a heavy underdog in his Indiana primary race with insurgent State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, many in the media are weeping bitter tears about the end of an era in Washington. After six terms in which he has increasingly come to be seen as part of the Senate furniture, it is not surprising that a likely plurality of Indiana voters are ready to turn him out. But to listen to the anguished reaction from pundits who are sympathetic to Lugar, his opponent’s supporters are nothing less than right-wing Jacobins who are sacrificing a sage statesman on the altar of extremism. But as much as that fits the mainstream media’s story line about the evil influence of the Tea Party on American politics, the truth is not quite that dramatic.

Lugar is the ultimate establishmentarian and the voice of conventional wisdom about any conceivable topic–especially foreign policy. He is also well-liked for his reputation for bipartisan cooperation. Though we are told Washington will be the poorer if there are fewer or no Lugars at all, the taxpayers as well as those sick of his knee-jerk foreign policy “realism” must be forgiven if they point out there is a difference between being the ultimate D.C. insider and the sort of politics of integrity we are told he embodies. Far from this being a case where the Tea Partiers are rolling out the guillotine for a brave voice of principle, what is going on in Indiana is merely the inevitable fate of any politician who overstays his welcome while standing for little but the continuation of business as usual on Capitol Hill.

Lugar is portrayed by normally sensible writers such as Peggy Noonan as the voice of reason in a town gone mad with ideologues. But as even she understands, the frustration of the GOP grass roots with people who call themselves conservatives but spend more time making nice with liberals and enabling the growth of the federal leviathan is not just a matter of Tea Party intemperance. It might be unfair to label Lugar a RINO, but to dismiss the refusal of many Republicans to bow to Lugar’s inflated Washington reputation as foolish populism says more about Washington than it does Indiana Republicans.

In the last two years as we have once again experienced the frustrations that attend to a divided government, those members of Congress who are less interested in agreement for its own sake than they are in fidelity to the ideas that they ran on have been demonized as extremists. President Obama has sought to brand GOP members who wouldn’t bow to his demand for tax increases as having put party before country, a theme the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank also uses in his hit piece on Lugar’s opponents. But the notion that government should be left to the so-called “adults” — a term that Noonan also uses to describe Lugar– is wrong.

It is true Congress must ensure the government functions, but Lugar’s fans seem to be saying the business of Washington is too important to be left in the hands of the people,  which is profoundly offensive. We have gridlock because we are currently stuck with a president who was elected in a liberal Democratic year with a House of Representatives that was swept in on a conservative Republican tide. That standoff should be resolved, one way or the other in November, as it should be, by the voters. But so long as people like Lugar, who, for all of their virtues, seem to be part of a permanent governing class, elections don’t count for much.

It is true that a Lugar defeat can be seen as part of a trend in which both parties have shed those members whose views deviate from those of their respective bases. That will lead, we are told, to politics where compromise is impossible. There is a cost to ideological politics, but there is also a price to be paid for Washington to be run by politicians whose primary loyalty is to the status quo rather than to the voters, and we have been paying for this for generations.

Compromise is a tactic, not a vision for governance. Moderation has its uses but when it becomes a faith in of itself, it has little to offer but the defense of existing institutional imperatives. The Senate will survive without its Dick Lugars. Other adults, including those who have not lost touch with the sentiments of their party’s grass roots, will replace them. The result will not be the collapse of our republic. In fact, it just might be the first step toward its salvation.

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Reports of Tea Party’s Demise Premature

Because the Republican Party will nominate the one candidate who, at least at the outset of the contest, Tea Partiers seemed to have the least affinity for, many political observers have concluded that the movement’s time has come and gone. But as the results from a number of Senate races testify, reports of the Tea Party’s demise are, at best, premature. In Utah, longtime incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch is being forced into a Republican primary to hold on to his seat. But an even better argument for the group as a force that should be reckoned with came in Pennsylvania, where the state GOP establishment’s choice was humiliated in a primary yesterday to determine the party’s nominee to oppose Senator Bob Casey.

While the Pennsylvania GOP Senate race received minimal attention even in the Keystone state, the collapse of Governor Tom Corbett’s attempt to handpick an unknown for the nomination is noteworthy. Corbett and the state party wanted Steve Welch, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who was a registered Democrat as recently as 2009. But Tea Party activists embraced Tom Smith, a coal millionaire from the Western region of the state. Though Smith, 64, was a lifelong Democrat, he was able to harness the anger of the party’s grass roots and won by a huge margin over Welch, and Sam Rohrer, a state representative who also sought to appeal to Tea Partiers.

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Because the Republican Party will nominate the one candidate who, at least at the outset of the contest, Tea Partiers seemed to have the least affinity for, many political observers have concluded that the movement’s time has come and gone. But as the results from a number of Senate races testify, reports of the Tea Party’s demise are, at best, premature. In Utah, longtime incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch is being forced into a Republican primary to hold on to his seat. But an even better argument for the group as a force that should be reckoned with came in Pennsylvania, where the state GOP establishment’s choice was humiliated in a primary yesterday to determine the party’s nominee to oppose Senator Bob Casey.

While the Pennsylvania GOP Senate race received minimal attention even in the Keystone state, the collapse of Governor Tom Corbett’s attempt to handpick an unknown for the nomination is noteworthy. Corbett and the state party wanted Steve Welch, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who was a registered Democrat as recently as 2009. But Tea Party activists embraced Tom Smith, a coal millionaire from the Western region of the state. Though Smith, 64, was a lifelong Democrat, he was able to harness the anger of the party’s grass roots and won by a huge margin over Welch, and Sam Rohrer, a state representative who also sought to appeal to Tea Partiers.

Though Casey is closely identified with President Obama and might be vulnerable if the Democratic ticket faces a strong challenge from Mitt Romney, he is probably not in much danger of being defeated. Casey, who remains popular despite a lackluster record in the Senate, has enough resources to match Smith’s wealth, and the GOP candidate is not likely to gain much traction outside of western Pennsylvania.

But no matter what happens in November in this race, the idea that the Tea Party is a spent force in the GOP is not realistic. We may get even more evidence of this when Indiana Senator Richard Lugar faces off in a May 8 primary with State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Unlike a marginal figure like Smith or Tea Party favorites who crashed and burned in the general election in 2010 such as Utah’s Sharon Angle or Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, Mourdock has a good chance of holding the seat for the GOP if he beats Lugar. If Tea Partiers can topple a Senate institution like Lugar, it will be more proof of the staying power of the movement. As Pennsylvania Governor Corbett and his cronies can tell Lugar, underestimating the Tea Party is a mistake experienced politicians should try to avoid.

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