Many of us in Foreign Policy Wonk-land have felt that New START is the perfect fault line dividing sober-minded Republicans and reflexive, unabashed, unthinking, ideological obstructionists. Senator Kyl has been the center-of-attention swing vote and had been trying to straddle the line. Now having pushed his luck by trying to further postpone a vote, he got called out. ~David Schorr
As much as I sympathize with Sen. Lugar’s arguments, I have to wonder if the critique of his Senate colleagues that he issued earlier this week will have much of an effect. Some of them have drunk so deeply of the Heritage Kool-Aid that they may have convinced themselves that their bogus objections to the treaty are serious defenses of principle, and others will simply dismiss Lugar as a RINO and leave it at that. Over the summer, Mitt Romney took up the anti-START cause, and Lugar directly and publicly refuted his op-ed. Lugar dismissed Romney’s op-ed as a “hyperbolic attack” that repeated “discredited objections.” This did not change Romney’s behavior in the least. He kept repeating the same “discredited objections” in other articles, and Lugar’s warning shot evidently had no effect on most of his Republican colleagues in the Senate. As I wrote in a column afterwards, Lugar’s criticism was more likely to hurt Lugar within the GOP than it was likely to damage Romney’s credibility on national security:
The ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar, issued a statement that completely dismantled Romney’s argument against ratification, but the clash between Romney’s demagoguery and Lugar’s expertise seems likely only to secure Romney the sympathy of neoconservatives who distrust Lugar for his foreign policy realism and movement activists who dislike Lugar as a moderate. Unfortunately, all signs suggest that Romney represents the future of the party and Lugar represents the past.
Nothing I have seen in the last week suggests that this assessment from July is wrong. I saw one report in The Wall Street Journal that Lugar’s colleagues were offended that he was actively aiding the administration push for the treaty:
But it is Sen. Lugar’s stance on New START that went over badly with Republican colleagues. When Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl on Tuesday announced his opposition to a ratification vote this year, the other members of the GOP caucus took their cue from him to push the issue into the new Senate. The lame duck docket is full as is, and Sen. Kyl wants firmer promises from the Administration on nuclear modernization and missile defense before taking up the treaty with Russia.
Sen. Lugar, who prides himself on his non-proliferation work over the years, came out in favor of New START early on. That wasn’t surprising. But Republicans were taken aback by his willingness to join the White House PR push this week, and especially his harsh words for the GOP caucus.
For some reason, Senate Republicans find it surprising that their leading expert on arms control would want to try to keep arms control alive rather than see it die a slow, agonizing death on account of his colleagues’ preposterous opposition. Apparently, they can play games with national security issues, and he is supposed to sit there quietly and not point out what they are doing. As the report explains, Lugar is running for re-election in 2012, and he has compiled quite a record on domestic issues that marks him as a moderate-to-liberal Republican. This record would have made him very vulnerable had he been up for re-nomination this year, and he could face a primary challenge in 2012, especially if he continues (correctly!) to berate other Republicans for their irresponsibility. It wouldn’t surprise me if Lugar ends up choosing to go the Hagel route and retires. As out of step with the public and the military as treaty opponents are, Lugar is equally out of step with most of the elected officials and activists in his party. It is generally bad news for the quality of Republican thinking on foreign policy and national security that Lugar is increasingly the odd man out in the GOP.