In Richard Lugar defeat, a tea party road map for revamping Washington?
Six-term Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana lost by a landslide to a tea party-backed challenger in Tuesday's GOP primary. The outcome buoys the tea party movement nationally, but some say Lugar's problems were unique to him.
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His message apparently resonated among voters in a state that President Obama won in 2008, but that is now on his campaign’s “watch list.”Skip to next paragraph
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“Money may talk, but the people, as individuals, speak louder,” writes law professor Elizabeth Price Foley, author of “The Tea Party: Three Principles,” on the Instapundit blog. “And right now, politically speaking, the Tea Party seems to be a bullhorn, amplifying deep and abiding concerns of the American electorate.“
Lugar's defeat increases the chances that a Democrat, Rep. Joe Donnelly, could win Indiana's US Senate seat in November, though experts say the odds are against him in a solidly red state. On the other hand, a Mourdock win in November could help the Republicans take over the Senate. If that happens, and if Mitt Romney wins the White House, “they’ll radically change the shape of public policy in three months – they’re not going to fiddle around,” says Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol, co-author of “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.”
The Mourdock victory “will give us fire, it will put wind in our sails,” confirms Monica Boyer, cofounder of Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, a tea party group.
Lugar’s resounding defeat puts the dwindling numbers of moderate Republicans on notice that their incumbencies could be threatened, no matter the size of their election war chests.
“Any elected Republican that doesn't pursue a small government agenda once in office risks suffering the same fate as Lugar,” writes editorialist Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner. “Had Lugar hung on, then a lot of people would have dismissed the Tea Party as a passing fad from 2010. But now it's clear that the movement has been underestimated once again. Tea Partiers have a lot more staying power than skeptics expected.”
Still, polls show that Americans are increasingly skeptical of the tea party, whose philosophy Lugar recently characterized as “rejectionist.” The advance of constitutional hardliners within the Republican Party and the exit of dealmakers like Lugar and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine will test the extent to which American voters value compromise.
“There are no moderates left to speak of in either party in the House and just maybe a handful in the Senate,” says Keith Poole, a political scientist at the University of Georgia. “As a result, it’s almost impossible to put together large bipartisan coalitions to pass reform legislation on entitlements. What’s happened is there’s been essential rejection of the left-over policies from the New Deal, and [tea party] folks are so conservative that they’ve kind of entered the ‘Twilight Zone.’ ”
Others say Mourdock’s historic win – it is only the third time a six-term incumbent US senator has been knocked out in a primary – point to a broader realignment in America’s two-party system.
“The long process of becoming normal parties of left and right began in the 1900s and is not quite complete more than a century later,” writes Mark Mardell for the BBC. “The trouble is that the American system does not function without good will and agreement.”
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