Aug. 31, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

The Downfall of a Statesman

Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Six-term Sen. Dick Lugar lost Indiana’s GOP primary Tuesday night. The former Foreign Relations chairman’s defeat was not unexpected — a lackluster campaign and residency problems ultimately doomed the 80-year-old.

The remarks were woefully out of tune with the rest of his party. Moments after he spoke, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) launched immediately into an attack of the health care legislation.

Lugar was the only Republican Senator who did not speak on the floor against the law. Multiple Republican sources close to the health care debate complained that, at the time, Lugar gave leadership headaches with his reticence. Finally, Lugar entered a statement into the Congressional Record asking Democrats to focus on the economy instead.

Being an attack dog was never in Lugarís nature. That was evident in 1996, when the jovial, silver-haired lawmakerís presidential campaign never got off the ground. For his entire Senate career, Lugarís wheelhouse always was, and continues to be, as a statesman.

That focus translated better to voters decades ago. But the Foreign Relations Committee, where Lugar did his most significant work and cultivated his deepest relationships, isnít what it used to be.

The committeeís prestige has dwindled  over the past 20 years. When Lugar came to Congress, the committee regularly passed State Department and foreign aid authorization bills.

More recently, the committee has lost clout, with more and more foreign policy getting made in the Armed Services and Appropriations committees instead. Itís been a slow decline due in part to party polarization on foreign policy issues as well as to a post-9/11 focus on security over diplomacy.

But at the same time that the committeeís influence waned, Lugarís voice diminished in the remaining key foreign relations debates on Capitol Hill. He also largely stayed on the sidelines during debates over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His cautious approach to foreign affairs put him at odds with his GOP colleagues.

Lugar urged prudence while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member on Armed Services, encouraged the country to intervene in Libya. Lugar voiced a similarly cautious position on U.S. intervention in Syria last year, an issue that also split Republicans.

But perhaps the greatest signal of Lugarís fading influence on foreign policy within his party came during the 2010 debate over ratifying the New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia. Despite Lugarís decades of experience on the subject, his GOP colleagues tapped Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) to negotiate with the White House on the accord. Lugar was the only Republican Senator to join Democrats and support its ratification from the beginning. He earned a measure of vindication when the Senate ultimately approved ratification of the treaty with the help of several Republicans. But it was clear he was no longer the leading voice for his party on the issue.

All the while, Lugar never let up his mantle as a statesman, even after it went out of political style. In the months leading up to the primary, Lugarís office continued to send out a regularly updated email scorecard with the number of deactivated nuclear warheads resulting from the 1992 Nunn-Lugar agreement.

The same scorecard hangs in Lugarís office, with Velcro strips to update the ever-increasing number of deactivated deadly weapons.

Unfortunately for Lugar, those numbers ­didnít move his own poll numbers when Mourdock began attacking him this year.

Campaign Plagued by Errors

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