Moderate Sen. Lugar's Struggles With Tea Party Mark 'Identity Crisis' in GOP?

The paper's biased Tea Party reporter Kate Zernike profiled Indiana's veteran moderate Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, one of the Times' favorite Republicans, on Sunday's front page: "Running on Moderation in Immoderate Times."

With Sen. John McCain making conservative noises on illegal immigration, Lugar may be the best bet for the Times to foster its dream of a moderate (i.e. toothless) Republicanism to counter the Tea Party, one that accommodates Democrats and supports, as Lugar did, President Obama on issues like amnesty for illegals. In November 2010, Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer marked Lugar as a brave "maverick" who had refused to succumb to "hyper-partisanship and obduracy," like the rest of the G.O.P., presumably.

Zernike caught up with Lugar speaking to a local Republican club in Indiana.

Mr. Lugar himself had reminded the room about the Rolodex of international leaders he had accumulated in 34 years in the United States Senate (a hint of his clout), about his 604-acre family farm in Marion County (his local roots) and about his ability to speak, without notes, of the intricacies of the federal budget (lest anyone think that at age 79, he no longer had the legislative chops for the seventh term he was seeking).

Still, facing his first primary challenge since 1976, here was another constituent with a question reminding him how difficult it was to be a Republican like Richard Lugar right now.

A constituent questioned Lugar about the federal debt, leading to this concerned passage.

Mr. Lugar is trying to run on moderation in an immoderate time. He is betting that the Tea Party call of alarm and partisanship is drowning out a majority that prefers Republicans who specialize in reason and reaching across the aisle.

Whether he is right will reveal something about the strength of the Tea Party. The fact that he is even struggling says a lot about the identity crisis in the Republican Party.

Odd how the Republicans are always beset with woes like an "identity crisis," even after one of the most successful election cycles in history.

Mr. Lugar does sometimes seem like a Republican from a different era. He is a centrist on foreign policy. He eschews labels - campaign aides dole out stickers calling him an "effective conservative," but Mr. Lugar rarely if ever describes himself that way. He does not refer to liberals or socialism the way so many in his party do.

(Hmm. Times reporter Steinhauer had no problem with calling Lugar "A reliable conservative for decades on every issue" in 2010.)

Zernike continued with more hagiography:

A Rhodes scholar and a former Navy officer, Mr. Lugar has spent almost all his life in public service. As mayor of Indianapolis, he was credited with saving the city's tax base, and therefore the city, by merging it with nearby suburbs. In the Senate, he is most proud of his work with Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia, to initiate a program of disarmament in the former Soviet Union.

Examining his uneasy relationship with the Tea Party, Zernike looked at things from Lugar's more liberal perspective:

Many of his positions dovetail with the Tea Party agenda; he has sponsored a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and argues for the need to reduce military spending and restructure entitlement programs to reduce the deficit.

But Tea Party groups complain about his sponsorship of the Dream Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants who are students or military veterans. They disapprove of his votes for President Obama's Supreme Court nominees and for the bank bailout of 2008. In the criticism most puzzling to him, they disapprove of his pushing for a new strategic arms reduction treaty on nuclear disarmament.

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