Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mourdock's Mistakes, and Reflections for 2014

A year to the day of the article’s publication, I discovered a USA Today editorial by Indianapolis Star editorial writer Tim Swarens, who assessed Tea Party upstart Richard Mourdock’s loss to Democrat Joe Donnelly in true-red Indiana at the end of the 2012 election cycle.

For some background on the contest, state treasure Mourdock issued a primary challenge against thirty-six year US Senate veteran Richard Lugar, an aged senator whom critics had dubbed “Obama’s favorite Republican.” He had voted to raise the debt ceiling five times and supported Obama’s US Supreme Court nominees. Lugar’s willingness to work with the other side on key issues, plus the fact that he no longer remembered his Indiana home address, motivated Hoosier voters to hose Lugar out of office. Despite the bitter results of the 2012 primary, Lugar endorsed and campaign for Mourdock. Washington Post syndicated columnist George Will recognized the will of Indiana voters to change their representation in Washington.

The change which Indiana Republicans had voted for in the primary did not turn out the way which they had hoped.

Into the last two months of the 2012 campaign, Mourdock’s tough message on cutting the spending and ending the debt-dealing dance and compromises which never were started to turn off Midwestern calm, cool, and collected conservatives.

Ignoring the candidate’s personal failures, I had commented  in this media forum that near-certain US Senate wins in 2012 were compromised by a compromised national standard-bearer, Willard Mitt Romney. A centrist Republican in deep-blue Massachusetts, Romney helped no Republicans gain traction in Beacon Hill. Furthermore, he sponsored the state-mandate health insurance plan RomneyCare, the blue print for the disastrous, gargantuan federal mandate ObamaCare (which incidentally enough, is forcing Massachusetts’ recipients off of their state-run plan as I write this column). He was a the best candidate out of a bad bunch, but not a good candidate to begin with.

Looking over the 2012 election fallouts in Missouri, as well as Indiana, North Dakota and Montana, this judgment against Romney seemed all the more justified. When considering Swarens’ take on Mourdock’s loss, however, including a measure consideration of in-state statistics and Republican gains across the Hoosier State, Mourdock’s loss revealed more complex sources.

Swarens claimed that Mourdock ran an arrogant, disorganized campaign.

Granted, state treasurer Mourdock, who had fought to protect the pension funds of Indiana’s retired teachers and police officers during the Housing Crisis, described true bipartisanship as “Democrats coming over to the Republicans’ point of view.” Putting aside partisan vigor and fiscal restraint, such an argument is both disingenuous and incredulous. Not content with winning his own Senate seat, Mourdock was contemplating a grand sweep of Republicans over the next two cycles to end the defict-spending and national debt explosion in Washington. Couting the hen house before the eggs were hatched, one could argue that Mourdock’s expectations had outpaced his more present need to win his own seat first.

Diminishing the national debt and reining in federal spending are all worthy causes, yet every candidate has to make his case to the voters, and Mourdock did not do this well. Even the conservative-leaning Rasmussen Reports polling firm acknowledged that Mourdock was maintaining a mere five point advantage of his Democratic opponent Joe Donnelly up to October, 2012.

Then came Mourdock’s disastrous comment about rape and God’s will.

“I don’t care what people may think,” Mourdock proudly announced, then pronounced his affirmative support for every unborn child, acknowledged that he supported abortion only if the life of the mother was endangered, then shared that the child conceived in rape was “God’s will.” Liberal media outlets pounced. Reconsidering these misplaced statements and columnist Ann Coulter’s unrepentant venom toward Mourdock and Missouri’s Todd Akin, I understand her frustration. The perceived arrogance of “I don’t care what people may think” simply has no place in a debate for federal office. For the record, Mourdock’s stance, minus the rhetorical flap, did not doom his campaign. Keep in mind that Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain also opposed abortion except in the cases of the life of the mother, and he had admitted this view on the uber-feminist daytime program “The View”. Cain’s proper phrasing of the issue, without spending significant time on the subject, prevented the issue from derailing his campaign.

So, reviewing Swarens’ indictment of Richard Mourdock further, one can conclude that Mourdock’s many mistakes, besides the rape comment, did undermine his candidacy. The Republican results throughout Indiana, aside from the US Senate loss, affirm that conservatives, not just Republicans, actually did very well and turned out for their own. Congressman and former Presidential candidate Mike Pence won the governor’s office, bringing in his victory wake Republican supermajorities into the Indiana state legislature. Seven out of nine Congressional seats went to conservative Republicans, as well, so obviously the fiscal and social conservative message was not a turn-off for Indiana voters.

Entering 2014, Republican and Tea Party operatives must respect each other’s interest by supporting well-financed and disciplined candidates, not just ideological partisans with unbending political convictions.

Will future conservative US Senate candidates learn from Mourdock’s mistakes? One can only hope.

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