Post-Lugar loss, how long can media continue its GOP “extremist” meme?

Almost immediately after his primary challenger, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeated six-term Senator Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary, Democrats denounced the election as yet another example of an “extremist-fringe” take-over of the GOP.

It’s a charge that’s now all too familiar.

Republicans have been branded extremists by a desperate opposition on just about every political issue since 2009.  The name calling reached its height right around the time all those “extremist” Tea-Partiers were handing the GOP a 63-seat gain in the U.S. House and a six-seat gain in the Senate.  The constituents of recent Tea Party- backed candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla), Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), Sen. Rand Paul (W.V.), and Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) must not have gotten the “fringe” candidate memo.

It seems relevant that the huge gains in 2010 came immediately after two years of entirely uninhibited Democratic dominance in Congress.  If electoral outcomes count for anything, it appears “right-wing extremism” is more popular than whatever the Democrats were doing at the time.
Just as they misjudged and mischaracterized their opposition in 2010, liberals are imagining things if they believe that Mourdock is out of step with the Indiana electorate.  He’s twice won in statewide elections against a Democratic opponent.   In 2010, he was re-elected State Treasurer with 62 percent of the vote.  In 2006, a terrible electoral year for Republicans, Mourdock won 52 percent.  Not too bad for an “out-of-touch fanatic.”

Moreover, Lugar’s loss was hardly the work of a well-organized fringe group.  Lugar was decisively defeated, losing by over 130,000 votes (about 20 percent of the total vote).  Despite Lugar’s stature, it’s not hard to understand how voters might be skeptical of re-electing a Senator who hasn’t actually maintained a residence within their state since Jimmy Carter was President.

At the national level, the extremism talking-point looks just as silly.  Neutral commentators acknowledge that the Obama campaign will have a tough time convincing Americans that Mitt Romney, a candidate conservatives and the Tea Party only recently begrudgingly endorsed, is too “extreme” to be elected.

Tellingly, most Democrats seem more than willing to ignore the exodus of moderate members within their own ranks.  The past two years have been brutal for Blue Dogs, as moderate-to-conservative House Democrats have been retiring or losing primaries in droves.  The Blue Dogs who lost re-election in 2010 don’t blame their constituents for their demise; they blame the unpopular policy decisions of President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

At the end of the day, the American electorate, of which 40 percent self-identifies as “conservative,” gets to decide who is too “extreme” for their tastes, not liberal politicians and commentators.  If voters weren’t buying the extremism charge in 2010, it’s hard to imagine they will this November.

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