Richard Reeves

The Republican Civil War

NEW YORK -- After Richard Mourdock defeated Sen. Richard Lugar by 20 points in last Tuesday's Indiana Republican Senate primary, he called, more or less, for one-party government. Asked by CNN's Soledad O'Brien his definition of "compromise," he answered:

"What I've said about compromise and bipartisanship, I hope to build a conservative majority in the United States Senate so bipartisanship becomes Democrats joining Republicans to roll back the size of government, reduce the bureaucracy, lower taxes and get America moving again."

When O'Brien responded that was actually the opposite of compromise, Mourdock averred: "Well, it is the definition of political effectiveness."

Rolling on, the tea party's latest gift to American politics added: "We are at that point where one side or the other has to win this argument. One side or the other will dominate. ... You never compromise. ... If people on the left they have a principle to stand by, they should never compromise; those of us on the right should not either."

Lugar's defeat was sad because he was in the top 10 of Senate members. Smart, sophisticated, willing to listen to the other side and sometimes vote with them, too. On the other hand, he was 80 years old and had not had a home in Indiana for decades. Experience and effectiveness worked against Lugar, once mayor of Indianapolis. His many strengths made him that most terrible of words in Indiana, "an elitist." Monica Boyer, one of the founders of Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, said this of a breakfast conversation with Lugar in 2010:

"We told him of our grievances and he said to us, 'I vote this way because I feel it is best for Indiana." He just kept saying that over and over again, 'I know what is best.'"

Perhaps it was time to go, but it was a shame to see him lose to a candidate like Mourdock, the state treasurer. There is something about him that reminds one of trench warfare in World War I. His words speak of deadlock, decline and death -- the death of why the United States has worked so well over time.

It was a civil war in Indiana. But the state has always been divided -- Chicago suburbs and manufacturing cities in the north and the Ku Klux Klan in the south. And the combatants were both in the same army, the Republican army. Mourdock still has to defeat a Democrat, Rep. Joe Donnelly, in the general election. And Democrats, silver lining, did not think they could defeat the venerable Lugar in November.

So, at least until November, the tea party we shall always have with us, or should I say, the Republicans will have them. What the rest of us will probably get is a Congress refusing to take action on most anything. They simply don't want a government they are convinced has betrayed them, favoring minorities, other countries and immigrants. Anyone who disagrees with that, Democrat or Republican, is a "socialist," maybe even a "communist." Or, even worse, a columnist. In an amazing performance last week, Mitt Romney, who has to be terrified of his right-wing base, stood silently as a speaker introducing him called President Obama a "traitor."

Well, they have all the money in the world and are working quietly to find and recruit credible candidates this time -- no more Christine O'Donnells of Delaware -- and they will continue to do as much damage as possible to reasonable governance. The irony of their battles is that, more often than not, their targets are not liberals, they are conservatives. Their next target is Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who they've been saying is not conservative enough.

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