About a year ago, former senator and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Danforth (R) expressed some concern about the direction of his party.

“If Dick Lugar,” Danforth said, “having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.”

That was 11 months ago. Soon after, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock launched a Republican primary challenge to Lugar, and most of the state’s GOP county chairmen and its state party executive committee threw its support to Mourdock, not the incumbent.

George Will takes a look at the primary fight in his column today, and notes that Lugar’s lengthy career is in real jeopardy.

Lugar has cast almost 13,000 Senate votes, so everyone has something about which to complain, and almost every conservative particularly dislikes one vote, that for the Troubled Assets Relief Program. The political center — of the nation and the GOP — has moved rightward since Lugar became a senator in 1977, and in 2010 the American Conservative Union rated Lugar the fifth most liberal Republican senator, and the National Journal ranked him the fourth. This, even though he opposed the stimulus, cap-and-trade (Indiana is a coal state), Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, is pro-life and has voted eight times for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

Mourdock, however, earned the admiration of national conservatives, and of people who are partial to the rule of law, when he rightly, if unsuccessfully, contested in court the terms of Obama’s Chrysler bailout. […]

Lugar’s courtliness and Midwestern aversion to rhetorical flamboyance do not match this moment of fevered politics.

Remember, less than a year ago, one of the Republican Party’s elder statesmen said his party would be “beyond redemption” if Lugar faced a credible primary challenge. And yet, he we are, 11 months later, facing the very real likelihood that Congress’ last respectable conservative will be rejected by his own party for not being right-wing enough.

What’s more, Jacob Heilbrunn recently explained the larger dynamic, in which the Republican foreign-policy establishment may well evaporate in the event of a Lugar defeat. “It isn’t just the career of the Senate’s senior-most Republican that is at stake here; it is an entire tradition of Republican foreign policy that is being repudiated by the party faithful,” Heilbrunn noted.

When it comes to international affairs, Lugar has maintained a degree of seriousness that his party no longer seems capable of fathoming. It is no exaggeration to say the ratification of the New START treaty last year was the direct result of Dick Lugar’s efforts. As far to the right as he is on nearly every issue, this conservative Republican still believes in a U.S. foreign policy that can and should be bipartisan.

It’s one of the reasons much of the GOP base is inclined to end his career next year.

“Beyond redemption,” indeed.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.