Long-time fixture on the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Richard Lugar will see the of end his thirty-six-year Senate career after an Indiana primary loss to Tea Party backed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock Tuesday.
The well-respected senator is known for his foreign policy prowess and ability to strike across-the-aisle compromises. His signature achievement may be his 1990s effort, along with Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn, for fostering disarmament of the former Soviet Union, now known as the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.
Lugar was also instrumental in setting the economic and political sanctions on South Africa that marked a turning point in the U.S. response to apartheid, “one of Lugar’s finest moments in the Senate,” says John T. Shaw at The Atlantic. “During his long Senate service, Lugar has been willing to do the important but unglamorous work of making American foreign policy function,” Shaw says, noting his services as a presidential envoy to Libya, an election observer in the Philippines and Ukraine, and a congressional observer to arms-control talks.
But Jacob Heilbrunn at Foreign Policy says Lugar was a relic in Washington. “Lugar was a product of the Cold War, when Democrats and Republicans squabbled about how to deal with the communist threat, but didn’t act as though foreign affairs was irrelevant to America’s future,” he writes. “As Indiana voters sensed, Lugar has become the pet creature of the foreign-policy establishment, wheeled out on occasions when a Republican was needed to bless an event or policy as bipartisan. But politically, he was a dead man walking.“
In a goodbye letter, Lugar acknowledged his bipartisan work on controversial issues hurt him this time around. “These included my votes for the TARP program, for government support of the auto industry, for the START Treaty, and for the confirmations of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan,” he said. “I also advanced several propositions that were considered heretical by some, including the thought that congressional earmarks saved no money and turned spending power over to unelected bureaucrats and that the country should explore options for immigration reform.”
What his loss means for the presidential race is under debate. Michael A. Memoli at the L.A. Times says Lugar’s defeat fuels “the narrative of an Obama campaign running as much against the ‘tea party’-infused Republican Congress as it is against Mitt Romney.”
Ari Berman says at NPR that Lugar’s loss is bigger than one Senate seat and “signals the end of moderate Republican internationalism” in both Congress and the GOP and “helps explain why neoconservative veterans of the Bush administration are now the principal foreign policy advisers to [presumed Republican nominee] Mitt Romney.”
For more on the candidates’ stances on major foreign policy issues, check out all of CFR’s Issue Trackers.
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Sean Sullivan writes in The Atlantic that the Tea Party’s assault against Lugar began at a meeting sixteen months ago. “Their goal was to address flaws in the movement that were exposed in 2010, when infighting and competing agendas largely driven by national groups and consultants hindered its ability to make lasting gains. What resulted was ‘Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate,’ a network of 60 Tea Party groups dedicated to retiring Lugar,” he says.
In a 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs, Walter Russell Mead examined the Tea Party’s role in foreign policy. “[W]ith all its ambiguities and its uneven political record, the Tea Party movement has clearly struck a nerve in American politics, and students of American foreign policy need to think through the consequences of this populist and nationalist political insurgency,” he writes.
At the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake argue Lugar’s loss had nothing to do with his opponent’s alignment with the Tea Party as the “instant analysis” suggests. “Lugar’s campaign did nothing to help him and, in fact, reinforced the fact that he had fallen badly out of touch with Republican voters in his state,” they write.
— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor