The press has its narrative about Sen. Richard Lugar losing the Republican primary in Indiana: It was a "conservative backlash inside the GOP" (Washington Post); the results "provide a new trophy for the Tea Party movement" (New York Times); "the Tea Party tossed another veteran Republican overboard Tuesday night" (Huffington Post); "a triumph for the Tea Party" (Los Angeles Times); you get the idea. Even Lugar himself seemed to be feeding the narrative, according to the Los Angeles Times:
Conceding defeat, Lugar told supporters Tuesday night that he hoped Mourdock would win November's general election. But in a written statement lamenting the decline of bipartisanship, Lugar warned that Mourdock would achieve little in the Senate if he failed to seek common ground with Democrats.
"In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party," Lugar said.
The Republican Party, he warned, risks being relegated to minority status if it continues to discourage its representatives from holding independent views or engaging in constructive compromise.
"Parties don't succeed for long if they stop appealing to voters who may disagree with them on some issues," he said.
I hate to burst everyone's bubble, but isn't this story line getting a little overblown? The fact is that any 35-year incumbent would be vulnerable in an era when approval of Congress is at historic lows. Any congressman or senator who stopped living in his home state in order to live full-time in Washington, D.C., would be a predictable target of a primary challenge whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. According to CNN, Lugar wasn't even sure what address was listed on his Indiana drivers license.
And any congressman or senator who stops voting in his own home state looks extremely out of touch with voters back home. Lugar was all three: a long-time incumbent who had stopped living and even voting in Indiana. Choosing not to live in Indiana was a deliberate choice Senator Lugar made, one with disastrous consequences. In fact, Lugar was faced with a ballot eligibility challenge based on the location of his current home, in northern Virginia. His argument, which succeeded, was that he was only required to be a resident of the state during his first run for office. But the voters got it. I'm sure many of them asked the same thing I did: Why on earth didn't he just keep an apartment back home?
Dick Lugar didn't lose his seat because he was a moderate. This would have happened if he'd been conservative or liberal, black or white, tall or short. Out of touch is out of touch.
Dick Lugar is beloved in Washington, and it's hard to believe he is 80 years old. But voters saw their popular 35-year senator moving further and further away from their daily struggles, and I can't say I'm surprised that they've voted in a new guy. What's surprising is that so many in the press—and Lugar himself—don't seem to understand why. This wasn't about obedience to the Tea Party. It was about connecting to the voters.