Richard Lugar Dead at 87

His passing is a sad reminder of another era of the Republican Party.

Former Senator Richard Lugar, an iconic figure for decades, has died after a long illness. His passing is a reminder of another era in American politics and the Grand Old Party.

Richard G. Lugar, a six-term Indiana senator who became one of the foremost voices on U.S. foreign policy — championing efforts to end apartheid in South Africa, oust Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos and secure the former Soviet Union’s weapons of mass destruction — and whose primary defeat in 2012 by a tea party candidate shocked the political establishment, died April 28 at a medical center in Falls Church, Va. He was 87.

The cause was complications from chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, a neurological disorder, according to a statement from the Lugar Center, a Washington nonprofit organization focused on weapons proliferation, food security and other issues that he worked on in Congress.

Mr. Lugar began his public-service career on the Indianapolis school board and achieved national attention as the city’s mayor before winning election to the Senate in 1977. He twice chaired the Foreign Relations Committee — from 1985 to 1987 and from 2003 to 2007 — and he was the panel’s ranking Republican from 2007 until his defeat, by which time he was the longest-serving senator in Indiana history.

The cerebral, soft-spoken former Eagle Scout and Rhodes scholar never claimed to be a colorful personality. “Dick has maintained that childhood capability of walking into an empty room and blending right in,” former Environmental Protection Agency administrator William Ruckelshaus, a fellow Hoosier and a friend, once joked at a Lugar roast.

But Mr. Lugar’s civility and grasp of substantive issues drew widespread respect. “He was kind of the E.F. Hutton of the Senate. When he spoke, people listened because they knew that he had independently thought through his position and weighed it on the merits,” Michael J. Glennon, an international law professor at Tufts University and former legal counsel to the Senate committee, said in an interview, referring to well-known brokerage commercials from the 1970s and ’80s.

After Mr. Lugar’s defeat, John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called the loss “a tragedy for the Senate. . . . His expertise on complicated issues honed over 36 years simply can’t be replicated.”

Mr. Lugar ran for president in 1996, vowing to test whether voters valued “serious talk about issues” over “cheap shots and sound bites.” The answer was not encouraging. Neither his sober — some said wooden — campaign appearances nor his proposal for a national sales tax attracted much interest. He seemed “like a fox-trot man caught in a rock-and-roll culture,” New York Times reporter R.W. Apple Jr. observed at the time.


Mr. Lugar was such an institution that when he ran for a sixth term in 2006, the Democrats did not put up an opponent. But by 2012, the tea party revolution was in full swing, and an old complaint — that Mr. Lugar was more concerned with the world’s problems than Indiana’s — had gained resonance.

“I think it’s fair to say that he has visited the Russian Federation more often than Russiaville, Ind.,” said the campaign manager for Mr. Lugar’s Republican challenger, then-state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Disclosure that the 80-year-old incumbent had sold his Indianapolis home more than three decades earlier but still used it as his voting address reinforced the out-of-touch claim.


After leaving the Senate, he created the Lugar Center. Among other projects, the center joined with Georgetown University to produce the Bipartisan Index — a ranking of members of Congress by how often they co-sponsor legislation with members of the other party.

The index echoed a message in Mr. Lugar’s Senate farewell speech. “Too often,” he told his colleagues, “we have failed to listen to one another and question whether the orthodox views being promulgated by our parties make strategic sense for America’s future.”

Washington Post, “Richard Lugar, six-term senator and leading voice on foreign policy, dies at 87

Lugar frequently criticized the foreign policy of Presidents of his own party and usually turned out to be right. He was an incredibly influential and respected figure in an era where Congress was more assertive in world affairs and substantially more willing to work across party lines to get things done.

Alas, Lugar lasted long enough that his style of politics had grown out of style. And Mourdock’s charge that Lugar was more interested in world affairs than in Indiana issues and constituent service likely contained more than a kernel of truth. Alas, Mourdock’s views on rape turned to be less-than-attuned to the culture as well and the seat turned over to a Democrat.

An unsigned editorial in a local Indiana paper reminds us that Lugar’s slogan during his ill-fated 1996 Presidential run was “Everything a President Should Be.” His party would nominate a man twenty years later who was the opposite.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CSK says:

    Barack Obama paid a lovely tribute to Lugar. But I wonder if he was zinging Trump when he said that “…perhaps most importantly, [Lugar] exhibited the truth that common courtesy can speak across cultures.”

    I hope he was zinging Trump. It certainly was a well-directed shot.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: During the tail-end of the Clinton presidency, Steven Taylor and I lamented how it was next to impossible to make a reference that wasn’t an unintentional double entendre. (CF: “tail-end”) With Trump, we have a similar situation in that any compliment paid to a politician will almost inevitably come across as a shot at Trump because, well, he lacks any trait normally associated with statesmen.

  3. CSK says:

    @James Joyner: Not only that, but Trump appears to lack any trait associated with civilized human beings. He’s a malevolent churl. And his fan club regards this as a feature, not a bug. I’ve said this before, but Trump is the culmination of a strain that’s always existed in American popular culture: oafs are authentic Americans; civilized, cultivated people are Europeanized wusses–at best. In the present day, it started in 1992 with Patrick Buchanan’s “peasants with pitchforks” speech, rose to a crescendo with Sarah Palin, and culminated with Trump. He’s a real American because he’s a graceless pig.

  4. SenyorDave says:

    @CSK: I think you are on to something with the oaf designation. I know people who all but say that Trump is an ignorant, malevolent buffoon who seem to like him for that. He pokes liberals in the eye, and he will never admit that he is wrong or apologize, and they seem to value those traits. I had a co-worker who thought he was great, and at lunch one day we were arguing and another co-worker asked him if he would want his daughter to marry a man like Trump (she was a senior in college). He hemmed and hawed but ultimately said no, and even admitted that he treats women poorly and that he was a liar. But according to him, these were qualities that don’t matter for a president. It is a cult of the oafs.

  5. CSK says:

    @SenyorDave: And according to those same people, Lugar was a deep state RINO traitor sell-out.

  6. SenyorDave says:

    @CSK: I’d like to meet a Deep State theorist and try to understand their logic. How come the people who Trump appoints aren’t part of the Deep State? Pece, Bolton, Pompeo – these people have spent their entire adult in government. And why wouldn’t people working for JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs be part of the Deep State. A bunch of Trump people came from those three firms.

  7. Franklin says:

    Very sad to hear another death gong for respectable Republicans.

    You may recall that Obama and Lugar worked together on nuclear non-proliferation in the Senate, visiting sites in Russia and so forth. And when Lugar was asked about Obama during the latter’s initial campaign for President, Lugar refused to say a bad word about him. And that basically cost Lugar his job.

  8. SC_Birdflyte says:

    He was one of my U.S. Senators in the early 1980s. I wasn’t enthusiastic about him then, but he looks like a titan among the pygmies of the today’s GOP.

  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    How come the people who Trump appoints aren’t part of the Deep State?

    They are.
    Republicans practice politics of projection. Whatever they are accusing you of…is what they themselves are doing. The Deep State is Russia and the GOP being willing co-conspirators in the effort to end our Constitutional Republic, and they are succeeding.

  10. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Hmmm…helped end the racist segregation of Apartheid, helped oust a strongman dictator, and acted against Russia?
    No wonder the Tea Baggers wanted him out and Dennison in.