This past summer I was downtown walking toward the Capitol
when I ran into Richard Mourdock. We hadn't seen each other since the primary
and so we stopped to chat. I congratulated him on his win and told him that
although I was a big Richard Lugar fan, I wished him well. I also shared with
him a story.
The first U.S. Senate campaign I ever covered as a reporter was the 1996 race in Illinois. The storyline paralleled a lot of what happened here in Indiana. Longtime U.S. Senator Paul Simon was stepping down leaving the seat open. Democrats nominated then Congressman Dick Durbin and Republicans had a contested primary pitting Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra against moderate Republican and a state representative from the Chicago suburbs, a guy named Al Salvi. Salvi would have been the 90s version of the Tea Party. He was pro-life, pro-gun, pro-home school, anti-tax and just about anti-everything else.
Salvi galvanized the far right, called Kustra a RINO ["Republican in Name Only"] and everything else but a child of God and managed to win. He shocked the establishment by scoring a victory. And just when we thought things couldn't get any worse back then, he shocked everyone again by running a horrible campaign and ever since then, Dick Durbin has the been a U.S. Senator from my home state.
Does any of this seem familiar?
While I don't recall Salvi ever having a "rape/abortion/God's will" moment. The fact is that he never moderated his positions or more importantly, his rhetoric, he went on lose by a healthy 56 to 44 percent. You would have thought that any sane, rational political person would realize that the strategy you use in a primary isn't always the best one to use in a general election.And that is what the problem has been for Republicans for a while and it all came to a head in last week's election.
GOP associations with the crazy tea party crowd have paid their dividends. In a year with unemployment near 8 percent, Republicans managed to not only lose the presidency, but also Democrats had a net gain of two seats in the United States Senate. And, as my progressive counterpart Democrat Kip Tew noted, had it not been for 2010 redistricting, Democrats would have recaptured the U.S. House.
Republicans can no longer afford to be the party of angry, bitter, white men. The big reason being there won't be enough of them. America is changing and becoming a more diverse society. The GOP needs to understand. And instead of talking about forcible rape and God's will, the party should be talking about economic empowerment. No, I take that back, the party should be talking to blacks, Latinos and women about economic empowerment.
Barack Obama's campaign did one heck of an outreach, making an emotional connection with voters, making them feel like they had a stake in his re-election. Mitt Romney did not do that and the GOP at the U.S. Senate level didn't help matters much either by running so many extremists who have no real appeal to that moderate/middle-of-the-road voter. And what is the end result, a re-elected Barack Obama and more Democrats in Congress.
Oh well, there's always 2014. Maybe someone will learn moderation is not just a virtue, but a winning strategy as well.