GOP’s gone overboard

With 34 years in the Senate, and two more to go in his current term, few would suspect Indiana’s Sen. Dick Lugar of being in any kind of political trouble in 2012. He hasn’t had a serious election threat since 1982, when he was a freshman running for reelection, and as a Republican in a state that will revert to the “solid GOP” column in 2012, he should be able to sleepwalk to reelection.

But that was before the era of the Tea Party, and there’s no doubt he’ll be among its top targets in 2012. 

Lugar has certainly given the Tea Party plenty of ammo. Despite a solidly conservative record overall, he’s strayed on key issues. He refused to go along with his Senate conference’s two-year moratorium on congressional earmarks. He was one of just nine Republican senators who refused to sign on to a legal brief challenging the constitutionality of the new healthcare reform law. He’s a fervent supporter of the new START arms-control treaty, despite bizarre GOP opposition predicated more on denying President Obama a foreign-policy victory than on objections to the policy itself. He voted to confirm both of Obama’s Supreme Court justices. He supports the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” And to top it all off, he’s a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act that would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to become legal residents if they go to college or join the military.

State Treasurer Richard Mourdock is already eyeing a primary, telling political columnist Brian Howey, “I’ve had a lot of Republicans telling me that I ought to look at a lot of things.” Indeed, Howey claims a Mourdock challenge is “a fait accompli.” He’s not the only one currently assessing options. Heck, even Gov. Mitch Daniels could fill the role if he doesn’t decide to run for president instead.

Lugar appears to think his personal popularity in the state will protect him. He released an internal poll two weeks ago showing him with a 66 percent favorable rating, higher than Daniels’s 59 percent. That may be so, but Delaware’s Mike Castle could boast similar approval ratings after decades of public service as governor and the state’s lone House representative. None of that matters in a charged primary sure to be dominated by ideologues. Indeed, only Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe seems to generate more antipathy among online and grassroots Republicans, and they are already hard at work laying the foundation of their challenge to the Hoosier.

“If Dick Lugar, having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption,” former Missouri Sen. John Danforth recently told The New York Times. 

Funny that Danforth thinks this is an open question, given Tea Party dominance in this year’s GOP primaries in places like Delaware, Colorado, Alaska, Nevada, Utah and Kentucky. Without most of those Tea Party victories, the GOP would’ve taken the Senate. Instead, they must now contend with a caucus that has more in common with the John Birch Society than it does with Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party. 

That trend will only accelerate in 2012. The GOP has certainly gone overboard. Whether it is beyond redemption remains to be seen. If it ever happens, it’ll be long after Lugar has been forcibly retired.

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos and author of American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right.