It seems liberal columnists and bloggers just cannot understand why GOP primary voters would elect new conservatives over long-time statesmen. Oops, did I say statesmen. I meant statists.
Dan Milbank and Steve Kornacki are the latest liberals to exhibit this phenomenon and their latest columns analyze the contentious Indiana Senate primary between Senator Dick Lugar and State Treasurer Richard Murdock. Kornacki’s article was generally just a bashing of GOP voters and Murdock but Milbank’ article does at least merit some thought. And it does point out in a way why the left cannot understand the new GOP primary voter.
But first let us get just a little more background on this race. Dick Lugar is a 6 term Senator and was expected to cruise to reelection. Afterall, he had seen what happened to Bob Bennett in 2010 and had millions in his campaign war chest. Moreover Murdock, his main challenger, was seen as abrasive and flawed. But Lugar’s campaign has floundered since the start. They have not found a consistent message, have been embroiled in controversy after controversy and have been unable to stop Murdock’s big M in the closing days of the primary. Voters seem to be voting more against Lugar than for Murdock as a new independent poll finds. Murdock led 48%-38% in the survey with the undecided likely to split their votes Tuesday.
In his article Milbank states three reasons why GOP voters should back Lugar, he is a moderate, he is a moderate, and he is a moderate. Okay, I am paraphrasing but that is essentially it. Milbank points out that Lugar is a giant in terms of Foreign Policy, has a legacy of bipartisanship and should be conservative enough for GOP voters to back him. Why, he has a 77% lifetime rating from the Conservative Union. Nevermind voters would like their elected Senator to live in the state he represents. Oh, I almost forgot, Milbank drips venom attacking Murdock for distorting Lugar’s record working with Obama. As if Murdock is the only candidate to ever do so in the history of the country.
What Milbank fails to mention is that Lugar simply assumes his status as Senator. Not living in his state for 20 years is one example. Another is his lack of a campaign because he assumed he had voters votes yet again. Voters like their elected officials to permanently live in the states they represent.
Despite having a 77% lifetime rating from the Conservative union, as well as voting against HC Reform, the Stimulus and Financial Reform, Lugar has built up a list of votes on issues many GOP voters disagree with. Lugar backed the START Treaty signed in the lame duck session of Congress in 2010 and even worse he voted for the Dream Act the same year. This when several Democrats voted against it. It might be all well and good for say Snowe, Collins and Brown to vote for it when the majority of their state’s voters back it but it is another when you simply disregard the majority opinion of your party electorate. No wonder Murdock has run ads hitting Lugar on the issues. It works.
As the campaign has progressed it has gotten nasty. The one thing I can agree with Milbank on is that some of the attack ads by Murdock have been highly dubious. Milbank would call them “unpatriotic.” I don’t go that far however. Lugar’s argument for reelection has been just as dubious. His case is basically I am with you 70% of the time and you have elected six times before so what is one more go. Primary voters don’t seem to be buying it. Even the endorsements of popular Governor Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush cannot stem the tide. Murdock simply counters with endorsements from Sarah Palin, Norquist and Bachmann.
Milbank’s basic argument underscores why the left cannot understand what would make the GOP would get rid of the likes of Lugar and Bennett (2010). Afterall, their experience should merit them another term if they want it. Well no actually. GOP voters, many of them conservative, want their elected officials to represent them. They do not want 36 year Senators who have created unsustainable debt, have lived out-of-state for 20 plus years and as an electoral security measure have built up strong Foreign Policy credentials to represent them.
The left just cannot understand this and on Tuesday when Murdock beats Lugar they will flail about and blame the far right and Tea Party. Instead they should look at the record of many defeated Republicans and the ideological and demographic data of the state’s GOP electorate. Who knows, they might just understand the “irrational” right-wing voter a little better than.