Mourdock sets off national debate on partisanship, purity
Thursday, May 17, 2012 6:11 AM
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
NASHVILLE, Ind. - Indiana Republican senatorial nominee Richard Mourdock’s assault on “bipartisanship” played well to 61% of the 19% of Hoosier voters who showed up at the polls on May 8. That’s a mighty slim sliver of voters. In essence, about 12% of voting Hoosiers made the decision on the U.S. Senate nomination.
And despite Gov. Mitch Daniels’ assertion that Mourdock is from the “mainstream” of the Indiana GOP, the notion of polarization and purity has become part of the national debate this past week and it is taking arrows from all sides.
Greg Fettig, co-founder of Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, wrote a May 11 op-ed piece for USA Today, in which he said, “Tuesday’s defeat of six-term Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana’s primary by constitutional conservatives was in large part fueled by anger over Lugar’s willingness to work with Democrats. The proverbial last straw for the Indiana Tea Party movement came with Lugar’s vote for the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court in the summer of 2010. The days of both political parties genuinely working toward preserving America in the visions of our Founders has long passed.”
Fettig continued, “Democrats and Republicans had at one time worked toward this end, albeit in slightly different approaches. Today’s political environment finds the two national parties embracing diametrically opposed and irreconcilable philosophies. The differences are so great that compromise by either side means a surrendering of principle. The heart and soul of the nation and the GOP are at stake. Before conservatives can re-establish the constitutional birthright of the nation, they must first purge the party of non-conservatives. Polarization is intentionally perpetrated by Reid and others. The Democrat Party is steering the country toward socialism, while true conservatives embrace limited government and free market capitalism. Until one side achieves absolute victory, or the Democrats genuinely reach across the aisle, there cannot be compromise.”
At his May 9 “unity” press conference with Gov. Daniels and other statewide GOP officials, Mourdock explained, “My idea of bipartisanship going forward is to make sure that we have such a Republican majority in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate and in the White House, that if there’s going to be bipartisanship, it’s going to be Democrats coming our way, instead of them trying to pull Republicans their way.”
It was a defiant comment given that Sen. Dick Lugar’s statement following his landslide loss the night before took issue with Mourdock’s approach. To be an effective senator, Lugar advised, “will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate. This is not conducive to problem-solving and governance. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve.”
While Fettig and Mourdock cite “polarization,” what will likely occur is a polarized Republican Party in Indiana, let alone how that message won’t play with independents and most Democrats. Lugarites will not be able to reconcile Mourdock’s approach because it is complete anathema to how he conducted himself and projected power in Congress.
When Politico approached Lugar on Capitol Hill on Monday to ask him about whether he will support Mourdock, Lugar issued a terse “no comment.” During his Election Night concession speech, Lugar said, “I hope my opponent prevails in November to contribute to a Republican majority.”
The notion of the kind of sustained “purity” movement it would take to command the U.S. Senate as well as the House of Representatives is a pipe dream. For the past decade, the electorate has swung like an unlatched screen door in a severe thunderstorm. President Bush was reelected in 2004, the Democrats retook the House in 2006 and President Obama won in 2008, followed by the GOP retaking the House in 2010. In a polarized environment, the electorate only sees festering problems, the approval of Congress plummets or wallows in the ditch, and voters swing back and forth between the two parties (unless, at some point, this frustration leads to the emergence of a credible third party).
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican, was asked by moderator Judy Woodruff about Mourdock’s stance on purity and partisanship. “I just don’t agree with that,” said Ryan.
Mourdock is also taking arrows from Democrats.
Former President Bill Clinton observed, “The Republican position that tends to prevail in these primaries as expressed by the gentleman who beat Sen. Lugar, who says, ‘I’m just against compromise, we need to stop it, it’s weak, it’s foolish, our views are irreconcilable, we have to force the American people to choose which one of us is right’ – if that prevails, we’re toast. We’ll look like a bush league country.”
Clinton added, quoting Mourdock, “He said, ‘I am totally against any compromise, our world views are irreconcilable’… If that were the view, there never would have been a Constitution.”
Former Sen. Evan Bayh, writing in a Chicago Tribune op-ed on Tuesday, agreed, suggesting that Mourdock’s contribution to partisanship would come when it’s least needed. “This intransigent approach is a great one for primary electorates that demand more combativeness and ideological purity from candidates than ever before,” Bayh said. “And if we had a parliamentary form of government with no checks and balances where the majority always rules, it might work. Solving any of these big challenges will require at least some support from both parties. No matter what happens in 2012, neither party will likely have the power to unilaterally ram through its agenda in the near future, but both parties will retain enough power to obstruct the other side – especially with 60 votes becoming the de facto threshold for most anything passing the Senate.”
But the most compelling observations came from 5th CD Republican nominee Susan Brooks, who told HPI on Tuesday, “I’m into governing. I actually believe part of why Congress is broken is they’ve gotten away from what it really means to govern and to help state and local governments govern. I’m into good government and good government isn’t about having predisposed notions on every issue as to how you’re going to vote. I’d say I’d like to read the bill before I tell you how I’m going to vote on that. I like to understand both sides. Instead of talking about compromising, I want to talk about achieving and advocating.
“It means instead of giving up your conservative principles, it means finding resolution and solution to problems,” Brooks said.
Asked about the cornerstone of Mourdock’s campaign and his attack on bipartisanship, Brooks explained, “I haven’t had a chance to sit down with Richard. We saw each other out on the campaign trail on occasion and he was friendly. I actually look forward to asking him if he has that position, how does he expect to govern in a two-party system? The people of the 5th I listened to said they want people to attack the serious problems and not dig in. I am not certain how Richard Mourdock will reconcile that with what I experienced in the 5th.”
Brooks added, “It seems to me the debt and jobs, getting the economy back on track, will take business principles in government. It will take reducing government spending, reforming the big entitlement programs, and those difficult problems are going to have to require a lot more people sitting down and figuring out what we can agree upon. I heard extreme frustration from the voters. At the meet and greets I attended, with mostly Republicans and independents, there was concern about the Republican Party and its inability to get things done. I really do believe they were looking for practical, problem-solving oriented individuals.”
On the day of Fettig’s op-ed, USA Today editorialized: “The problem will never be solved without bipartisan compromise. But the true-believers continue to hold out for a day when their party can get its way by capturing control of the White House, the House of Representatives, and the 60 or more votes in the Senate needed to break filibusters. Never mind that the likelihood of that happening anytime soon is the same as that of Ron Paul winning the presidential election. And so the nation continues toward a fiscal cliff.”