My very first “official” political position was as chair of something called “the 71 Committee for Lugar for Mayor.” It was a Jewish community group supporting Dick Lugar for Mayor back in 1971. I continued to support Lugar over the years, even as he became more and more conservative, and even after I left the GOP, partly because he is so solid on foreign policy and partly because the Democrats have thus far failed to offer any strong candidates as alternatives.
The recent Tea Party opposition to Lugar’s re-election is a perfect example of what has happened to the Republican Party. As the party has become more radical, officeholders have found it necessary to pander to a base that is increasingly composed of rabid ideologues. Highly intelligent people like Dick Lugar have had to choose between playing to the sensibilities of that base and losing elective office. Thus far, Lugar has managed that balancing act pretty adroitly; he’s been sufficiently right-wing on domestic issues to placate the crazies, and that strategy has allowed him to pursue the sensible, nuanced international policies for which he is known.
However, the right wing of the party has gotten steadily more intolerant of any deviation from their “agenda” of bumper sticker platitudes, and increasingly suspicious of anything that looks like intellect. The continued “Palin-ization” of the GOP can be seen in its increased hostility to complexity, its dismissal of science and rejection of empirical evidence, and its absolute opposition to anything that smacks of “elitism”—which apparently is defined by actually knowing what you are talking about, or (God forbid) having a degree from a decent university.
So now we have Richard Mourdock, our intellectually-limited State Treasurer, announcing a primary challenge to Lugar. Mourdock’s last foray into public policy was his lawsuit to withdraw Indiana from the Chrysler bankruptcy settlement negotiated by the creditors—despite the fact that he had previously signed a binding agreement to abide by whatever settlement the creditors’ committee negotiated and despite the further fact that Indiana did better financially under that settlement than it would have if he won the lawsuit.
In a sane world, Lugar would make short work of someone like Mourdock, and the odds still favor that result. But given the current mindlessness and anger of the Tea Party folks, and the fact that they are far more likely to come out to vote in a primary than the party’s dispirited moderates, I would be reluctant to place a very big wager.