By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON – When Indiana Republicans go to the polls on Tuesday, they will do more than choose a candidate for the Senate. They will choose between party and country.
That’s a stark assessment, but true. On one side is a man who has made it his life’s work to build a cross-aisle consensus for keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states. On the other side is a man who mocks his opponent for such work and who talks more about fighting Democrats than America’s enemies.
Dick Lugar has for years been the leading Senate Republican figure on foreign policy. His signature achievement was the 1991 Nunn-Lugar Act, drafted with Democrat Sam Nunn, creating a structure for securing Soviet nuclear weapons. In the years since, Lugar has labored to protect and expand the program.
Enter Richard Mourdock, a Tea Party hothead attempting to defeat Lugar in the GOP primary. A cornerstone of his effort to oust Lugar is the six-term senator’s bad habit of bipartisanship. In one typical ad, Mourdock’s campaign plays a clip of Barack Obama saying, “I’ve worked with Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law.” It then has a clip of Obama saying, “What I did was reach out to Senator Dick Lugar.”
Deviously, Mourdock’s ad cuts off the clip before the viewer can learn what the law was about. In the first instance, Obama said: “I’ve worked with Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law that will secure and destroy some of the world’s deadliest, unguarded weapons.” In the second instance, Obama said: “What I did was reach out to Senator Dick Lugar, a Republican, to help lock down loose nuclear weapons.”
Those details omitted, this ad (and versions of it) goes on to show a cartoon Lugar dancing and giggling with a cartoon Obama, pink valentines between them and a rainbow (symbol of the gay pride movement) above them. There is a great deal to dislike in Mourdock’s message, but the most egregious part is his underlying contention that Lugar should be punished for cooperating with the other party – even though the issue is protecting Americans from weapons of mass destruction. That’s not just wrong; it’s unpatriotic.
The Mourdock campaign attributes his claim that Lugar is “President Obama’s favorite Republican” to MSNBC, apparently referring to an online report before Obama won the presidency titled “Barack Obama’s favorite Republican?” The report noted that Lugar “is a loyal Republican and McCain supporter.” The deeper implication – that Lugar isn’t a conservative – is at odds with his 77 percent lifetime rating by the American Conservative Union. Mourdock hits Lugar for voting in favor of Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees (he also voted for all five court conservatives).
As Mourdock piles up support from the likes of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Grover Norquist, Lugar is still clinging to the notion that substance matters. Last week, his office issued a news release titled “Lugar Announces Elimination of Weapons of Mass Destruction through Nunn-Lugar.”
Some Democrats hope that Mourdock beats Lugar because it would increase the likelihood that Democrat Joe Donnelly will win the seat in November. But that’s not why Hoosier Republicans should reject Mourdock. They should reject him because they still believe that national security trumps partisanship.
Dana Milbank’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.