Voting out Senator Dick Lugar is currently the biggest bet of the 2012 season. The payoff, however, is a real concern. The decision to unseat the third-longest serving Senator wasn’t just a bet, it was betting the farm on Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
A round of applause, first. One has to wonder what the formula was for unseating a giant of the Senate. But who gets credit, who benefits, and really, who paid for all of this?
I’m sure every voter realized the consequences of voting out what any political pundit calls a “guaranteed” winner. For Senator Richard G. Lugar, it had less to do with his actual leadership, but what some people think he did (or did not) do. Whatever Lugar accomplished, even when it was good for Indiana, it was wrong. Maybe voters were tired of the same old person, who tirelessly helped Indiana while in office?
After all, a strong TEA showing for Senate is a good thing in races where the GOP needs to use the TEA to defeat the Dems, but in the Hoosier-red state of Indiana, the primary race became a nightmare scenario for the establishment. There was no scandals, just a few votes that plenty of other Senators made as well. The question is why certain states seem to have greater reprisals for these votes, and why in some states, the reprisal effort actually works.
The race for Indiana’s next Senator is just the beginning of what I believe is an internal struggle for control between the state party and outsiders. The fact that Club for Growth delivered the nomination for Mourdock shows more about the demise of state party strength, and the idea that single interlopers can bring great change to the system. Take a look at Nebraska’s late-night upset where Deb Fischer unseats Jon Bruning for Senator, and puts yet another Senate seat in competitive reach for Democrats.
It should be a warning for state parties, who often haven’t exercised their legs in the age of new media. As news media and PR firms continue to highlight SuperPACs and other outside money groups, the influence of the party has now shifted to an ideological center, something that any tragic hero of old myth will always portray. Those parties, once defined by theory, are evolving to a point where the only necessary requirement of a political party is to house a candidate for an election, and hoping the victory is assured by the ideology, not the organization, money, and participation of the voter (which was why the party was created).
And for any Waffle party (a serious endeavor), the Waffle House is just as good as the state GOP machine for housing an electable candidate on the issues. In fact, the issues seem to have finally trumped the party line platforms, leading to the ordered chaos we see today.
State parties are dinosaurs. They failed to react to the social media explosion, got subprimed by outside groups who just wanted their subscribers, and now are prey for outside groups who can not only blitz their state races, but also leverage their ideal “candidate” for office any time they feel the party is too weak to defend itself. And it’s really not even the money that can get manipulated or leveraged for effect. One presidential candidate comes to mind.
Look at recent events in Nevada, Maine, Alaska, and Louisiana. The process is actually legal and simple to do. State parties in 4 states were hijacked by Ron Paul’s ingenious strategy, and before you cry, did all of this by the state party’s own rules.
In Michigan, we’re often told to accept hack candidates like former Rep. Pete “ScrubItNow” Hoekstra. And the MIGOP should be wise to take a look at Indiana and Nebraska, and adjust before they get their self-anointed candidate clobbered, squandering another Senate pick-up.
In short, voters have decided their state party isn’t worth much, because the real influence, the real deciders of campaigns (especially primaries) is outside money and interest groups who actually seem to understand the state voter more than the state party does.
The voters chose Mourdock, and they gave up the Lugar cash advantage. Even in the flood of anti-Lugar cash, the Lugar ATM outspent Mourdock, and took in a heck of a lot from outside groups as well. Ironically in proportion to spending, outside groups for Mourdock outspent Mourdock himself. The Sunlight Foundation link above is a revealing read for those who are still befuddled with outside spending and the legal ramifications of anonymous spending.
For both Indiana and Nebraska, there are two examples of how a state party failed to deliver on anything. Win or lose, the voters finally had someone they could back, and next time, a renewed sense of purpose (not a sense of regret and RINO-itis).
But while the ideology holds, there are consequences for toppling conservative giants, and all the money could go with it.
For Senator Lugar in Indiana, his entire tenure was snuffed in a single night. Even as he was proposing cuts to the farm bills that Congress continued to pay out the nose for, he still found federal money for farms in his state, especially the big ones.
Lugar, Indiana should’ve been the name of a new prototype city, a government-supported big-farm community where 10% of all farms took 73% of all subsidies. And when farm organizations tout the Senator’s diligent efforts to provide “safety nets” and protection from “volatile markets”, it’s no surprise that voters should consider what sort of conservative manipulates the free market of food.
But Senator Lugar’s efforts did help Indiana shift their economy to avoid the damage that Michigan suffered in the last recession. His votes for TARP and the auto bailouts allowed Gov. Mitch Daniels some room to maneuver. Had the remnants of Indiana auto gone down with Michigan during that time, there would be no income to tax anyways, or farmers who would be able to sell their product to those who were all on unemployment.
Nebraska’s recent primary lead me to hope that there will be a civil campaign between Bob Kerrey and Deb Fischer. But then again, this is the same candidate who had to go to Herman and Sarah for help, and had to have two other candidates burn each other down before she won.
In Indiana, Richard Mourdock’s opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly (IN-02), isn’t a pushover, has great popularity even outside Lake and Marion Counties, and probably will win ties if the economy improves. As Gov. Mitch Daniels receives credit for saving money by offsetting federal money to do so, the improvement of Rep. Donnelly’s stock rises as well in the same breath. It’s not fair when you ask either side, but the main issue will always be the economy in state and federal races.
One positive thing for GOPers is that Mitt Romney won the primaries in these states. In Nebraska and Indiana, strong right-wing candidates are winning their sides of the race, only to face strong headwinds for victory in the fall. And as these are farm states, the big debates will center on corporate farming, federal aid and price-controls that are as hypocritical as nominating Mitt Romney for President. In all, a typical election season.
Indiana felt the manufacturing crunch, and Nebraska lives and dies by the corn. And for decades, each industry has been the focus of free federal money in all sorts of ways. For those Senators who got the cash (including Senator Ben “Medicaid-Payoff” Nelson), it’s a big risk to hire ideologues who tout free markets in states where farms beg for the opposite.
Maybe I’m reading the cards wrong on this, but the solid political play would’ve been to take the Senate seats necessary as Senator Tom Coburn put it, to actually get something done. The state GOP failed to corral their supporters into getting the establishment candidates who could’ve won on deck. Now they’ve got to produce victories where it’s plain harder to do. And that’s counter-intuitive to all those 2010 promises to “repeal and replace” that got everyone voting TEA, flipped the House, and now, birthed the gridlock we all suffer from today.
I’m not saying that Nebraska and Indiana will have blue Senators, but I will say they’ve got a darn better chance after all of this, and furthers the chances of a clear House/Senate majority for all that real “hope n’ change” that the GOP tried to promise in 2010. And now voters have to re-elect all those so-called “reform” candidates, and create a new incumbent problem for the next generation of Americans.
Maybe this is the terrible two’s of a new party alignment in the GOP. Patience is required to re-sculpt the party, and maybe one has to suffer and swallow the horse-pill of Hoekstra in order to fulfill the disease of legislative reform.
But at the same time, just be prepared for losses down the road, because this isn’t a midterm. Participation isn’t an option, and as these primaries showed, the establishment isn’t getting a second chance.