It’s starting to look over for Dick Lugar

Welcome to the permanent era of Tea Party politics

Topics: War Room,

It's starting to look over for Dick LugarRichard Lugar (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

It sure doesn’t look like Richard Lugar is long for the political world. The news that the major super PAC supporting his candidacy is bailing on him a week before the Republican primary reinforces a growing consensus that the six-term Indiana senator will likely be defeated next Tuesday by his conservative challenger, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

Under one scenario, this could be a fortuitous development for Democrats, since Lugar, with his broad popularity outside the Republican Party, would probably defeat the Democratic candidate, Rep. Joe Donnelly, with ease. By contrast, Democrats are hopeful they could exploit Mourdock’s Tea Party politics to turn the state’s swing voters against him – as happened with several high-profile Tea Party-backed candidates in 2010.

That said, Mourdock – unlike, say, Christine O’Donnell or Joe Miller — is an established statewide politician whose public behavior doesn’t easily conform to the image of a kook. And Indiana, even though it narrowly backed Barack Obama in 2008, is a traditionally Republican state that’s expected to land in the Romney column this fall. So there’s a good chance Mourdock will land in the Senate if he prevails next week.

The real significance of a Lugar loss, though, would extend far beyond November. The fact that he’s now fighting for his political life in a GOP primary is a reflection of the endurance of the Tea Party phenomenon. The term itself may feel tired and even dated, a relic from 2009 or 2010, but it’s really just a colorful synonym for “Republican Party base.”  And as Lugar’s perilous standing shows, that base is waging the same kind of purity crusade in 2012 that it did in 2010.

The difference is that there are fewer targets this time around, which makes sense: Dozens of Tea Party-aligned Republicans won House seats in ’10, moving the center of gravity in that chamber about as far to the right as it’s ever been. But the bigger success the Tea Party had in ’10 was that it got into the head of every Republican on Capitol Hill. Watching Republican incumbents like Bob Inglis, Bob Bennett and Mike Castle lose out to little-known – and, in some cases, glaringly unqualified – Tea Party-backed challengers, delivered a clear message to Republican lawmakers: If you stray from our absolutist, compromise-phobic stance even once, you’ll be next.



This is why Republicans in the House have charted such a politically suicidal course since winning back the chamber. Traditionally pragmatic conservatives – including Speaker John Boehner – deferred to the purists for fear of being branded sellouts. The situation wasn’t quite as severe in the Senate (especially with Democrats still holding a majority), but individual Republicans there got the message. Olympia Snowe, before walking away in frustration a few months ago, became a far more reliable vote for conservatives in the Obama era. Orrin Hatch ditched his flair for compromise and became a relentlessly harsh Obama critic; it was just enough to save him (so far) from suffering a humiliating defeat at the GOP’s Utah state convention, as Bennett did two years ago.

There’s been less primary season Tea Party activity this year because there’s been less need for it. Lugar is a bit of an exception. Like most of the Tea Party’s previous targets, “moderate” really isn’t the best word to describe his Senate voting record. He’s a conservative and a generally reliable Republican vote, but he does have an independent streak. And to today’s conservative activists, who demand complete, unyielding ideological purity, that’s not enough. So they decided to make an example of Lugar, and they’re well on their way to succeeding.

The real implications of a Lugar loss next week will be psychological: How will watching yet another prominent Republican with a solidly conservative record lose in a primary affect the mindset of average Republican member of Congress? Chances are, it will make him or her even more resistant to taking any action, big or small, that might possibly be construed as ideologically disloyal.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>