Republican Richard Mourdock's victory in the Indiana Republican Senate primary Tuesday cut short the 35-year political career of a GOP lawmaker known for his willingness to work with Democrats on Capitol Hill and sent a clear message to other Republicans that compromise is now tantamount to treason.
Mourdock ended Sen. Richard Lugar's quest for a seventh term with the help of the ultraconservative Tea Party, which sees no need to compromise with Democrats in an era of sluggish economic growth, skyrocketing federal debt and a Democratic president bent on expanding the reach of the federal government.
"Compromise, in the minds of Democrats, is wanting us to surrender, and that is essentially what Sen. Lugar does," said Greg Fettig, co-founder of Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, an umbrella Tea Party organization in Indiana that boasts a membership of more than 25,000. "Sen. Lugar epitomizes what is wrong with the GOP."
Tea Party activists watched in dismay over the last few years as Lugar, one of the Senate's most senior members, backed a bailout of Wall Street and supported two of President Obama's picks for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
"That was the proverbial last straw, the votes for Kagan and Sotomayor," Fettig said.
Fettig's Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate decided to do something about Lugar and in 2010 began bringing together dozens of smaller Tea Party groups "for the singular goal of defeating Sen. Lugar in [Tuesday's] primary. And we did."
This is not the Tea Party's first victory against a Republican who demonstrated a willingness to work with Democrats. In Utah, the Tea Party ousted three-term Sen. Robert Bennett in 2010 after he voted for the Wall Street bailout. Fettig and other Tea Party supporters say Lugar isn't the last incumbent in their cross hairs.
While many lawmakers of both parties say compromise is needed on Capitol Hill if Congress is going to accomplish anything, Tammy Bruce, a conservative talk show host, summed up the Tea Party's view of political compromise on Laura Ingraham's radio show Wednesday.
"You know what bipartisanship means?" Bruce said. "It means conservatives give up."
The entire Republican Party appeared chastened by Lugar's loss. Those mourning the Senate veteran's defeat with words of praise for his 35-year career were Democrats in the Senate and White House, not Republicans.
President Obama praised Lugar for his "strong, bipartisan leadership." Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., lamented the shrinking number of lawmakers like Lugar who are willing to work across party lines.
"It's a said day on both sides of the aisle," Durbin said.
Democrats have another reason to praise Lugar, who on Wednesday blasted the party over his loss.
Lugar declined to attend a GOP unity breakfast Wednesday morning, just hours after his defeat. In a statement, Lugar accused Mourdock and some like-minded lawmakers in Congress of possessing "an unrelenting partisan mindset."
University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato noted Mourdock will likely be the Tea Party's top victory of the 2012 elections, but says the movement's influence remains strong.
"The party and GOP candidates are more conservative today than they were in prior eras -- or even in 2008," Sabato said.