The US Senate lost a beacon of bipartisanship when Republican Richard Lugar was trounced by an ultra-conservative challenger — the latest erosion of a moderate congressional middle that will leave Washington more polarized than ever.
The crushing defeat of the longest-serving US senator from Indiana in a party primary on Tuesday is a glaring example of anti-incumbent sentiment and a warning to lawmakers of both parties — not to mention US President Barack Obama — in a pivotal election year.
Lugar, 80, considered himself a true conservative, but his propensity to work deals with Democrats over the decades — and often siding with Obama or Senator John Kerry in the US Foreign Relations Committee — steadily eroded his influence in a legislative body consumed by gridlock.
With hyper-polarization emer-ging as the Capitol Hill norm, the six-term Lugar was seen as increasingly out of touch with a changing political landscape that more often than not rewards ideological rigidity over cooperation.
After all, Lugar lost to a candidate, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who once described bipartisanship as: “Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
Conservative Republican Senator Rand Paul said that it would be naive as a lawmaker to believe in “this whole idea that we need to all be bipartisan, hold hands and sing Kumbaya.”
Paul was among a handful of lawmakers swept into the Senate in 2010 on support from the US “Tea Party” movement — the low-tax, small-government movement that targeted moderate Republican incumbents and put forward anti-establishment alternatives like Paul.
Lugar spent years in statesmanlike cooperation with Democrats on some of the major foreign policy issues of his time, namely nuclear non-proliferation.
It was notable that some of the warmest words of tribute on Wednesday after Lugar’s defeat came from Democrats.
“He refused to allow this march to an orthodoxy about ideology and partisan politics to get in the way” of the business of Congress, Kerry said on the Senate floor.
“That’s something we’re going to lose: the institutional experience, the judgment, and the wisdom of the approach on some of those issues,” he said.
Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, who served 12 years in the chamber until 2008, was irate that his former colleague might possibly have been done in for his non-ideological temperament.
“You’re penalized in the Republican Party today if you have a relationship” with someone outside the party, he told National Public Radio.
“What’s the point of that? I remember a time when a relationship with a president was pretty significant and people used to be proud of that,” Hagel added.