Former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), who suffered something of a similar defeat to a tea party candidate in 2012 to the one potentially facing Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in Mississippi, thinks his former colleague could have done more to crush the tea party challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
“I learned from my situation I was advised by many of my colleagues who I respected really to ‘define’ the opposition and to go after the opposition really vigorously,” Lugar said, saying he thought it should be done in a way that was “good mannered” and of a “good sportsman.”
“I was told told that I was going to have to get over that for a little while and really slug it out,” he admitted.
For Lugar, what’s happening in Mississippi right now is reminiscent of what happened two years ago in Indiana. The former senator, like Cochran in Mississippi, faced a serious tea party challenge in the Republican primary. To the despair of establishment Republicans, lost to tea party candidate Richard Mourdock, who gained attention for saying in a debate that he opposed abortion even in the circumstances of rape because God “intended” for those pregnancies to happen, McDaniel has a history of making off-color remarks and associating with white nationalists. Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly (IN) ended up winning the Senate seat, and in Mississippi there’s a Democratic challenger, former Rep. Travis Childers, waiting in wings.
Lugar suggested that Cochran may have made some missteps in anticipating the challenge from McDaniel. What wisdom might Lugar have imparted?
“I would’ve indicated that obviously he was going to have to devote a great deal more energy to the campaign,” Lugar said. “I remember, for example, and this goes way way back, I was running for the Republican nomination for president in 1995 and 1996 and I took seriously still the thought that I needed to be there for roll call votes. That I needed to somehow get the Farm Bill across the finish line or what have you. Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton did not make the same mistake when they were running. They simply left the Senate.”
“I think given the situation probably he needed to say ‘okay, on this particular occasion I’m not going to be available on the Senate floor, I’m not going to be available for the regular duties in appropriations and agriculture,'” Lugar said.
The goal for tea partiers, Lugar said, was to “get rid of somebody who was not perceived as a solid Republican, somebody who’s not in fear of closing down the government or of doing all kinds of things as they saw it.” The Indiana race, Lugar said, actually encouraged some of the tea partiers that waged challenges to incumbent lawmakers in the 2014 cycle.
McDaniel is one of many tea party-backed Republicans who have challenged incumbents.
“If Thad does not win in the runoff we have a candidate who has a reasonably good chance of winning, although it may be right that Childers has a better chance than anyone is writing about,” Lugar said.