Richard Lugar was President Nixon’s favorite mayor when he was back home in Indiana, and now he’s President Obama’s favorite senator. And why not? He represents a mostly red state but his heart bleeds true blue. He’s an easy bleeder.
No other Republican, Republican in Name Only (RINO) or not, has scorned tea party voters and their concerns with such enthusiasm. Next year, when he runs for his seventh term, he will answer a question that titillates Washington: Can a sitting senator in a red state tell tea party voters to get lost and live to tell his colleagues about it?
He relishes opportunities to taunt the most conservative voters in his party for their opposition to the Obama schemes to transform the culture and make us all pay for it. He supports TARP and the DREAM Act and leaped to endorse the president’s first two nominees to the Supreme Court almost before the news of their appointments reached Capitol Hill. Mr. Lugar is particularly abusive to anyone who demurs from his sycophantic promotion of any and all arms-control agreements.
“I’ve got to say,” he said of tea party voters to an Indiana television interviewer not long ago, “‘Get real.’ I hear tea party or other people talking about they were against START. I said, ‘Well now, hang on here.’” Mr. Lugar met tea party leaders in Indianapolis shortly before Christmas, but the session broke up without much of the cheer of the season. The Tea Party Express, the campaign arm of the movement, listed Mr. Lugar as one of their first Senate targets for 2012.
This week Mr. Lugar drew his first strong Republican opposition. Richard Mourdock, the elected state treasurer, said he was running and had already collected promises of support from nearly 80 percent of the Republican county chairmen of Indiana. He told Indiana voters in his announcement speech: “Mr. Lugar even went so far as to say that the tea party needs to ‘get real.’ Please understand, I understand the ‘reality’ in which you live. … You are not disconnected from reality; it is those living in that fantasyland of Washington, D.C., where taxpayers are seen as revenue sources and burdensome regulations are seen as the product of a good day’s work. It is the elite of Washington, D.C., who must ‘get real.’”
The senator’s defiance of his home folks is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to either the tea leaves or the newspapers. He has courted Mr. Obama for years, and on the day of the final presidential debate of the 2008 campaign he endorsed the squishy Obama warning against John McCain’s purported “reactionary” and “isolationist” ideas about how to project and promote American interests abroad. That very night, in the last presidential debate, Mr. Obama praised the senator as among those “who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House.” Mr. Lugar didn’t discourage speculation that he might be Mr. Obama’s secretary of state. He stayed in the Senate but was an honorary co-chairman of the Obama inauguration.
The senator has developed a talent for slipping away from the particulars of his voting record and sliding into easy accommodation with Democrats and other liberals. He was once a reliable (more or less) ally of President George W. Bush for effective prosecution of the war in Iraq, but abandoned the war effort in June 2007, saying it was time to quit. The Democratic whip in the Senate praised Mr. Lugar’s speech as “thoughtful, sincere and honest,” the usual argle-bargle showered on those who agree with you, and Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, was struck dumb (but not mute) by the grandeur of the Lugar remorse: “When this war comes to an end … and the history books are written … Sen. Lugar’s word … [will] be remembered as a turning point in this intractable civil war in Iraq.”
He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment limiting the definition of marriage to one bride and one bridegroom, but voted to expand descriptions of “hate crimes” to include gassy proscriptions against weird sexual orientation and sexual identity. He voted against repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but after Joe Lieberman explained that Democrats wanted to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Mr. Lugar joined Democrats in repealing the policy.
After Mr. Lugar briefly ran for president in 1996, he withdrew quickly when it became apparent that he might not carry his street back home in Indiana. Later, a reporter asked him if he might consider running again. No, he said, “that’s for Barack.” Butch always keeps the Kid’s back.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.