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Richard Lugar’s unavoidable defeat

The post mortems are pouring in following the defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar in the Indiana primary last night. The ones I’ve seen contain plenty of nonsense.

The Washington Post, for example, quotes “Republican insiders” as attributing the result to Lugar’s “nice guy” approach and lack of warrior instincts, rather than to the strength of the Tea Party in Indiana. John McCain, who was easily re-elected in 2010 and who supported Lugar this year, says that the moral of the story is “don’t play defense, play offense.” Others say Lugar was too complacent early on about the strength of the challenge he faced in the current environment.

There is no doubt that McCain profited from being proactive. The same is true of Orrin Hatch, who will probably survive a challenge in Utah this year. However, it is quite unlikely that Lugar could have prevailed over challenger Richard Mourdock no matter how early on he had perceived the magnitude of that task and no matter how much “offense” he had played.

Hatch and McCain are more conservative than Lugar. Hatch’s lifetime ACU rating is 89 percent; McCain’s was 82 percent when he ran for re-election. Lugar’s is 77 percent.

At least as importantly, Hatch and McCain have provided conspicuous leadership on issues near and dear to conservatives. For decades, Hatch has led the fight for conservative judicial nominees – from Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas to Samuel Alito, and dozens of lower court nominations. McCain has been a leader in the struggle to control federal spending and to keep our military strong. And he has been a thorn in President Obama’s side since Inauguration Day.

Lugar’s leadership is in the realm of foreign policy, where he worked closely with Democrats to advance the dictates of the conventional Washington, D.C. wisdom. Joe Biden said yesterday that on matters of foreign policy, he and Lugar “seldom disagreed.” One hopes that this is typical Biden BS – Clueless Joe has almost never been right on major foreign policy issues. But Biden’s remark is telling nonetheless. No one can point to a policy sphere as broad as foreign policy and say that Hatch or McCain generally agrees with liberal Democrats.

In sum, the main reasons for Lugar defeat are substantive. Lugar could have campaigned non-stop throughout 2011 and 2012; it would not have made a significant difference. What could he have said at any point that would have won over Indiana’s conservative Republican electorate? Nothing comes to mind.

Indeed, the harder Lugar tried, the worse things became for him. In the final days of the campaign, he slipped from 5 points behind in the polls, to 10 points behind, to 20 points behind when the votes were counted.

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