Lugar's Loss: A 'House Cleaning' by Tea Party
Policy + Politics

Lugar's Loss: A 'House Cleaning' by Tea Party

David McNew/Getty Images

After Dick Lugar’s dramatic ouster Tuesday night from the Senate in the Indiana Republican primary, many are lamenting, and with good reason, the loss of the long years of experience in foreign policy and intelligence and the many decades of political negotiating skill that are walking out the door with the white-haired, pragmatic Lugar.

RELATED:  Without Lugar and Others, the Center Doesn’t Hold

This, of course, is not exactly the way the Tea Party sees the outcome of this closely watched election. There’s precious little wistful nostalgia or fretful handwringing today among the conservative faithful, who fervently backed Richard Mourdock, the geologist-turned-state treasurer in Indiana, helping him win with more than 60 percent of the vote. Mourdock, 60, was supported by everyone from local Tea Party activists, to the Club for Growth, to the National Rifle Association, to FreedomWorks, the national conservative organization chaired by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.

Instead, cutting the 80-year-old Lugar loose was simply a matter-of-fact decision – all part of a “house cleaning” this year in Washington, as some in the Tea Party see it.

“He [Lugar] was an unresponsive long-term incumbent. He clearly didn’t reflect the values or thinking of his constituents in Indiana,” Mark Meckler, senior advisor for the Campaign for Primary Accountability and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, the largest Tea Party organization in the country, told The Fiscal Times today. “As someone without a residence in Indiana, and seemingly the worst sort of D.C. insider, he was also a perfect representative of all that is wrong with unresponsive, long term incumbents of both parties.”

According to the Tea Party Patriots, “Sen. Lugar betrayed the principles of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets that must be addressed this year… [So] this upset is no surprise to tax-paying Americans in Indiana.”

Lugar’s defeat should wake up entrenched Washington,” added Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots and their national coordinator, writing on the group’s website.

Election 2012 Complete Coverage

Is this how they view other longtime lawmakers who are leaving their posts as well, including Rep. Barney Frank, and Senators Olympia Snowe, and Joseph Lieberman?

“They were certainly long-term D.C. insiders. As to whether they were unresponsive to their constituency, I can't say,” Meckler responded. “But I believe that turnover in Congress is healthy for the republic. For roughly [our] first 100 years, turnover ran at approximately 40 percent per cycle in the House of Representatives. During that time, the size of the federal government was fairly consistent, around 4 percent of GDP. I think those numbers are telling. There is also a strong numerical correlation between time in Congress and spending. The longer folks are there, the bigger and more expensive they believe government should be.”

Meckler didn’t offer any quantative research to back up his claim, but it sounded good.

RELATED: End of an Era: Moderate Republicans Call It Quits

He also said, “Contrary to what many in the media want the public to think, the Tea Party is critically important in 2012.” The group is pointing, with an almost unrestrained glee, to Lugar’s defeat as one piece of clear and unquestionable evidence of this.

After his win, Richard Mourdock offered up a peculiar take on bipartisanship to NBC that suggests cooperation is the last thing on his mind: “Bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view,” he said. “Bipartisanship means they have to come our way… I feel I can defend the purpose of conservatism, and more Republicans should be doing it just as I want to.”

Not surprisingly, Democrats predicted that their party’s Indiana Senate nominee, Rep. Joe Donnelly, would stand a much better chance of beating a right winger like Mourdock than the more moderate and accommodating Lugar in the general election. However, Indiana is a heavily Republican state – even if President Obama won there in 2006 – and Murdock has run before in statewide races, winning twice as state treasurer.

So keep an eye, now, on the cash flow to Mourdock. He didn’t raise big money until the primary really got going, but right after the win, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina reportedly sent a message to supporters of his Senate Conservatives Fund, urging them to donate cash to Mourdock, who “needs our support more than ever.” DeMint added that the “Democrats are going to come at him very hard in the next few weeks.”

Not for nothing, it’s also worth noting the record fundraising last year by the Tea Party Patriots. Some 96 percent of the $12.2 million they raised in 2011 was in small donations under $100 – and the money is going back to “where it comes from – local activists,” reported The Wall Street Journal  this morning. The Tea Party Patriots say they have 3,500 local affiliates and a mailing list of 310,000 small-dollar donors. “They also say they’ve raised even more money for the 2012 fiscal year, although they declined to provide [those] numbers,” said the Journal