Coming to terms with a misguided base

COMING TO TERMS WITH A MISGUIDED BASE…. The NYT‘s Kate Zernike had a good item over the weekend, noting the Republicans’ Tea Party base targeting three incumbent GOP senators — Richard Lugar of Indiana, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Olympia Snowe of Maine — for primary defeats in 2012. The efforts in Indiana were of particular interest.

Lugar has long been a very conservative lawmaker, though he’s also been the kind of statesman who can work with his Democratic colleagues. This approach has apparently drawn the ire of far-right activists — 70 or so Tea Party organizations have created a conservative coalition that will meet over the summer to pick Lugar’s primary challenger. The coalition is also launching an aggressive effort to get the message out about Lugar’s imaginary “liberal” record.

The coalition, Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, is also in communication with FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Express, and the Club for Growth, as part of a coordinated effort to bring down the respected, veteran Republican senator.

For his part, Lugar doesn’t think highly of his right-wing detractors.

Mr. Lugar said at a breakfast with reporters this month that he believed that many Tea Party supporters were motivated by anger “about how things have turned out for them.” They want to express themselves, but their complaints often boil down to nothing more specific, he said, than “we want this or that stopped, or there is spending, big government.”

“These are all, we would say, sort of large cliche titles,” he said, “but they are not able to articulate all the specifics.”

The senator didn’t get around to saying, “These people have no idea what they’re talking about,” but I think the sentiment was pretty clear.

The problem, of course, is that Lugar’s right. The Republicans’ Tea Party base, like many of its allies on Fox News and in Congress, can spout cliches, memorize ridiculous talking points, and wave silly placards, but there’s no depth of thought or seriousness of purpose. They don’t like various policies and personalities, but they can’t say why. They demand creative solutions, but can’t recommend any. They decry big government and dependence on the state, and see no contradiction embracing and living off of government largess.

As I’ve noted before, if you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you’d only see one circle.

Indeed, the Republican activists have been encouraged to think this way. Those who offer reliable evidence and information — credible journalists, policy experts, academics, scientists — have been deemed untrustworthy eggheads and/or enemies of all that is good and pure. Who needs reason when the GOP base has conspicuously unintelligent cable news personalities to help them make sense of the world?

With that in mind, I share Lugar’s concerns, but hope the senator isn’t too surprised by any of this. His party created this monster, and now it’s on the loose in his state.