The Last RINO: To the modern Republican Party, Richard Lugar was already a dead man walking. He just didn’t realize it.
This year, a new book by John T. Shaw appeared about Sen. Richard G. Lugar, who lost his primary to Tea Party candidate and Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock. Like Lugar, its tone is steady, reassuring, and unexciting. The tome is called Statesman of the Senate: Crafting Foreign Policy from Capitol Hill. It has received blurbs from everyone from former senior Clinton administration official and Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott — “a trenchant study of statesmanship as practiced from the legislative branch of our government” — to former Sen. Sam Nunn — “A close-up look at the dedication, effectiveness, and outstanding public service of Senator Dick Lugar.”
Such encomiums from top Democratic pooh-bahs should come as no surprise: Lugar has burnished his reputation over the past several decades by cooperating with Democrats on important foreign-affairs issues, notably those regarding nonproliferation agreements with Russia. Writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, columnist Peggy Noonan called for Lugar’s reelection and summed up the consensus view: “In Washington now very few have their eye on the big picture. Mr. Lugar does.” With Lugar’s defeat, a chorus of media Cassandras will surely declare that the defeat of a senator whom Time magazine called “The Wise Man” represents a terrible blow to U.S. foreign policy and that it essentially spells the official end of a bipartisan approach.
But just how significant is Lugar’s loss? Does it really signify something more than the defeat of an octogenarian who had worn out his welcome with a state he has not resided in since 1977?
The truth is that Lugar is already a spent force. Yes, he was a Republican who supported the United Nations and believed in international law. Yes, he abhorred inflammatory rhetoric. But his signature achievements — such as the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which has, among other things, resulted in the deactivation of thousands of Russian strategic nuclear warheads and the elimination of hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles — are now long behind him and will have to be taken up by a new generation. Whether he returns to the Senate is largely irrelevant.