INDIANAPOLIS – Conceding defeat for the first time in nearly four decades, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar embodied his reputation as a diplomat by graciously pledging to support the tea party-backed rival who had just ousted him.
But hours later, the Indiana Republican's tone changed dramatically. His campaign issued a scathing statement Tuesday night chastising primary winner Richard Mourdock for his partisan ways and lamenting a Washington that doesn't value compromise.
"I don't remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other," the 80-year-old senator wrote. "Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change.
Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc."
He saved the sharpest criticism for Mourdock, slamming the state treasurer for embracing "groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican Party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it."
"This is not conducive to problem solving and governance," Lugar said. "And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve."
The comments underscored the frustration for the longtime face of Indiana politics who built a career on his willingness to compromise and broker deals, only to see those traits become a liability for Indiana's conservative electorate.
Mourdock, who had lost four other political races before being elected as the state's treasurer, said he read the election results as a vote for his candidacy, not against Lugar's.
"He is not now my enemy," Mourdock, who will face Rep. Joe Donnelly in November, said in his victory speech. "He will never be my enemy. He was simply over the last 15 months my opponent ... this race is not about animosity. It's about ideas."
While the challenger took the hig
h road, former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Souder said Lugar's statement sounded like it was written by staff members trying to save their own careers after a disastrous campaign.
"This is petty," said Souder, who stayed out of the primary battle. "If he's going to re-emerge at some sort of state department position or Cabinet post, there are lots of different things you can do. But when you whine and get defensive, you draw it out. You get another cycle of stories. What you do when you lose is you cut your losses."
As the leading Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar has long been considered one of the Congress' experts on foreign policy. He is a leading voice for a nuclear non-proliferation treaty with Russia and has often been mentioned as a potential Cabinet secretary. During a 2008 presidential debate, then-candidate Barack Obama suggested even he might consider the Indiana senator for a job in his administration.
That was too much for tea party Republicans and other conservatives who have shunned compromise with the president and other Democrats.
After the election results were announced, Obama praised Lugar, saying he "served his constituents and his country well."