The United States and the Republican Party have lost a wonderful force for good. Former Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana passed away at the age of 87. A Republican, Lugar served for 36 years in the U.S. Senate. He was the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations twice, from 1985-1987 and from 2003-2007, and invested much of his time and effort on the big challenges that confronted the United States. Not a “backslapper,” he was extremely smart, hard-working, and very serious about his work.
Sen. Lugar believed that we live in a dangerous world that requires U.S. leadership. He believed in U.S. hard power, but also in “soft power” — including the promotion of democracy and human rights.
Some of Sen. Lugar’s success can be measured by what did not happen in the world: There has been limited proliferation of weapons of mass destruction after the Cold War, partly due to the Soviet Threat Reduction Act of 1991, also known as the Nunn-Lugar Act. This act helped ensure that former Soviet states did not develop and export nuclear capabilities following the fall of the Soviet Union. Additionally, few, if any, commercial airplanes have been shot down by shoulder-fired missiles. This is partly due to Sen. Lugar’s partnership with then-Sen. Barack Obama from 2005 to 2007 to pass legislation against the proliferation of shoulder-fired missiles.
During his tenure as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations from 1985-1987, Sen. Lugar advanced U.S. foreign policy while defending democracy and freedom abroad. He observed and denounced the fraudulent 1986 presidential elections in the Philippines, after which Ferdinand Marcos declared himself president. Lugar helped convince President Reagan to condemn Marcos, forcing Marcos to give up power and give way to Corazon Aquino, who became president. He also supported the Anti-Apartheid Action Act of 1985, which imposed sanctions on South Africa for not taking steps to end apartheid. President Reagan vetoed the bill, but Sen. Lugar led the effort to override the veto, and the bill was passed into law in October 1986.
As senator of an agricultural state and a farmer himself, Lugar was interested in food security issues before the topic enjoyed a resurgence 10 or so years ago. He was a reliable and long-term supporter of the “150 account,” the technical term for the account that allocates funds for U.S. foreign aid and diplomacy. Lugar also briefly ran for the GOP nomination to the 1996 presidential campaign. His thoughtful campaign attracted conservative internationalists, but his platform — focused on foreign policy and national security — fell on deaf ears pre-9/11.
My wife and I hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Lugar in McLean, Va., in 2012 when he faced a primary challenger within the Republican Party. For an out-of-state senate candidate, there was a strong bipartisan turnout.
At the time of the fundraiser, there were concerns that Lugar was vulnerable. Sitting Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah had lost the GOP nomination in 2010, raising alarm that others would be vulnerable too. Moreover, Lugar had received criticism for being out of touch with his voters and spending too much time in Washington. The campaign manager of his 2012 GOP opponent, Richard Mourdock, famously said that Lugar had “visited the Russian Federation more often than Russiaville, Indiana.” The concern of his voters perhaps culminated when, in 2012, he was forced to change his voter registration from an Indianapolis house he had sold in 1977 to his family’s farm. Amidst these challenges, Sen. Lugar sadly lost the Republican primary election to Mourdock in 2012 by 20 points. His loss scared and incentivized other Republicans running in the 2014 election to take steps to protect themselves, including Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.). Mourdock went on to lose the deep-red Indiana seat in the general election to the Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly by 5 points.
After Sen. Lugar’s long career in the Senate, he established the Lugar Center, a nonprofit organization in Washington focused on food security, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and bipartisan governance. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, one of the highest civilian awards in the United States.
It will be hard to fill Sen. Lugar’s shoes. The Republican Party has a more conservative and perhaps less collaborative bent now, but senators such as Lindsey Graham and Todd Young of Indiana are arguably carrying Lugar’s legacy forward.
Thanks to Sen. Lugar’s efforts, the world is now safer, freer, and more prosperous. America is going to miss him.
Daniel Runde is a senior vice president and William A. Schreyer chair in Global Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He previously worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank Group, and in investment banking, with experience in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.