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The 2012 Speculatron Weekly Roundup For May 4, 2012

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RICHARD LUGAR
Sen. Dick Lugar is facing a tough re-election fight. | AP

This coming Tuesday, in Indiana, voters will go the polls in the GOP Senate primary to decide if they are going to stick with six-term Sen. Dick Lugar or elect the Tea Party-endorsed Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

And for Lugar, things are not looking good.

During the 2010 election cycle, the Tea Party activists demonstrated that they could transform their "Braveheart"-yawping into success at the polls. Early on, they picked off conservatives deemed to be apostate, like Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, would-be Nevada Sen. Sue Lowden and perhaps most infamously Delaware Rep. Mike Castle. And they planted their imprimatur on the new Congress, bringing Mike Lee and Rand Paul to the Senate and packing the House with enough new members to give House Speaker John Boehner many a migraine.

Flash-forward to 2012, and this movement has been somewhat muted by the fact that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney emerged as the presidential nominee. This was an outcome that Tea Party types deemed unacceptable from the outset but could never muster any strength to prevent. Eventually, most of the "Stop Romney" movement shrugged and accepted its fate.

But next week, there's a pretty good chance that the Indiana state primary will feel a lot like the run-up to the 2010 elections. What's soured Indiana conservatives on the longest-serving senator in Indiana history, who for the past four elections has been backed by at least two-thirds of the electorate?

By and large, it's because he's opted to pursue his politics without being some kind of howling lycanthrope. Lugar has a friendly and collegial relationship with Vice President Joe Biden and has worked rather intimately with President Barack Obama on nuclear nonproliferation issues. He also voted for Obama's Supreme Court picks and has in general been one of those "loyal opposition" types -- as opposed to a grenade tosser.

But for Mourdock backers, these are all now cardinal sins. And they've successfully used Lugar's long tenure as a noose to tie around his neck, framing his amiable nature as the product of having been in Washington too long.

This effort was aided immeasurably when Mourdock successfully got Lugar embroiled in a lengthy residency controversy that took several twists and turns. At one point, it looked as if Lugar would be deemed ineligible to even vote in Indiana before it was finally resolved in Lugar's favor.

The whole episode damaged Lugar's standing. And right now, he's looking at a race that at best will be very close. How desperate is Lugar these days? So much so that he's revived flag burning as a wedge issue.

Larger ideological battle lines are drawn all over this race. You can see them just by seeing who has endorsed whom. Lining up for Mourdock are Grover Norquist, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.

On Lugar's side, you'll find John McCain, Peggy Noonan and Tom Daschle (who is not actually helping things).

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who previously allied himself with both men, eventually backed Lugar. But the picture is clear: The purity keepers are keeping with Mourdock, and the D.C. elites with Lugar (which only reinforces the narrative that Lugar's been on his Beltway shift too long).

What happens if Mourdock prevails? Well, Democrats will get starry eyed about their chances of keeping Evan Bayh's seat in November, but as Mourdock is not exactly Sharron Angle, that will remain a tough road to run. Salon's Steve Kornacki notes that the "real implications of a Lugar loss next week will be psychological."

How will watching yet another prominent Republican with a solidly conservative record lose in a primary affect the mindset of average Republican member of Congress? Chances are, it will make him or her even more resistant to taking any action, big or small, that might possibly be construed as ideologically disloyal.

Beyond Tuesday, of course, there are two other similar Senate primary races to watch. In Utah, the long-serving Orrin Hatch is facing the Tea Party's long knives, being challenged by Dan Liljenquist. And in Texas, Tea Party-backed Ted Cruz is challenging the establishment's pick, David Dewhurst, in the battle to claim the seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison.

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SEAL Team Backlash Brewing: The one-year anniversary of the successful raid that claimed the life of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden ended up largely being seen through the distorted lens of the 2012 horse race. It probably deserved better. Nevertheless, this week will be largely remembered for being one in which an Obama campaign ad touting the mission ended up being a broadside at Mitt Romney. As we've already noted, Romney left that door open. But walking through it may come at an unforeseen political cost to President Obama.

As Michael Hastings reported for Buzzfeed, anger over the politicization over the raid is "brewing ... particularly among a politically conservative core of operators."

Over the past few days, I’ve reached out to a number of SEALs, both active duty and former. Most active duty SEALs were reluctant to go on the record venting or praising their boss, but one of the most interesting responses I received from an operator was to direct me to Leif Babin, a SEAL who left active duty last year.

Babin, who runs the consulting firm Echelon Front, wrote a little noticed op-ed in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal four months ago. The headline: OBAMA EXPLOITS THE NAVY SEALS. Babin took aim at “the president and his advisors, writing: “It is infuriating to see political gain put above the safety and security of our brave warriors and our long-term strategic goals.”

Hastings goes on to say, "It wouldn’t be surprising to see the website: navysealsagainstobama.com sprout up soon." Et, voila, here it is. The first thing you see? Leif Babin's op-ed.

Romney Hangs Richard Grenell Out To Dry: We all know that Mitt Romney likes being able to fire people who provide services to him, but in the curious case of short-lived foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell, it's seems as though the rendering of services never had much of a chance to start. Immediately upon Grenell being named as an advisor, liberal activists pointed out that Grenell was something of a notorious Twitter troll, aiming savagely unfunny and sexist barbs at women like Rachel Maddow and Callista Gingrich. But that was seemingly no big deal. Scrub the old Twitter account, and move on.

But the Grenell story took a darker turn once the right wing started "vetting" him and quickly discovered -- horrors! -- that he was an openly gay man who was in favor of marriage equality. This detail somehow trumped the many years Grenell had plied his craft in conservative circles and administrations. Brian Fischer of the American Family Association raised hell, cowardice prevailed at the National Review, and Grenell suddenly found himself silenced on a conference call that he had gone to the trouble of setting up.

Eventually, Romneybot's political-calculation matrix ran the numbers and determined that he could not risk even a single anti-gay vote by going out and attempting to make a principled case for retaining Grenell.

It's pretty rare when an executive manages to hire a notorious sexist and fire the victim of a homophobic witch hunt within two weeks, but Richard Grenell managed to provide Romney with that opportunity. We guess this is an example of Romney's vaunted reputation for managerial efficiency.

Scenes From The War On Ron Paul: As Jon Ward reported this week, the GOP establishment is getting pretty concerned about the way Ron Paul and his loyal minions keep attending state conventions and pulling additional delegates into his pile:

Conversations with numerous Iowa Republicans confirms the same thing: The state party establishment is dreading a Paul rout on June 15 and 16 at the two-day congressional district/state convention in Des Moines.

"Paul is costing the state a lot of credibility," said Bob Haus, a GOP consultant who most recently headed up Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign in the state.

Another Republican operative who works for a statewide official sounded an even more despondent note.

"It does not sound encouraging. The Paul people are in a position to control the delegates, and the result would be chaotic for the Republican Party of Iowa and bring it to a screeching halt, rendering it completely irrelevant to our efforts here," the Republican aide told The Huffington Post. "Nobody would rely on [the state party] for anything."

And over in Nevada, the RNC has taken the extraordinary step of warning state party officials that if they let the Paulites ride herd over the delegate proceedings, it might not allow all the Silver State's delegates to be seated at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Which seems a little bit unfair to us!

Beyond that, we are confused: How is it that the Republican establishment has only just now figured out what Ron Paul has been up to all this time? His "caucus strategy" has been widely and plainly reported. Numerous examples of this strategy working have been documented. What can we say? Everyone was warned.

Veepstakes Get Inside-Outside Take: We've got several months of vice presidential hype to endure, so we'll go slowly with you. According to Republican "insiders," the dream running mate for Mitt Romney is Ohio Senator Rob Portman. What does Portman have going for him? Well, just about anyone pops when they're juxtaposed with Portman. He's bland and beige, like that guest at your wedding that you have to ask about. "Oh, yeah. That's cousin Melissa's new husband. Yeah, he's pleasant." The hot quote, from those insiders: "He was born to be the guy standing next to the guy.”

The GOP voters, however, part ways with the "insiders" over their preference for the guy who will be standing next to the guy. By and large, they want either Rick Santorum or Marco Rubio. And Ohio Republicans prefer Rubio as well, despite Portman's inherent Ohioness.

"The rocket was almost ready. Callista was already onboard." Because we imagine lots of you aren't willing to let go of the Newt Gingrich candidacy, Mother Jones' Tim Murphy has penned the alternative history of Gingrich's triumph that you're craving.

Third Party Watch: Buddy Roemer's press guy, Carlos Sierra, has emailed us, hopeful that a recent Democracy Corps poll from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner foretells bright days ahead: "Governor Roemer is now polling at 7% according to the most recent national survey." If this phenomenon keeps repeating itself at the top tier polling agencies, we'll let you know.

Also from Sierra's email: "Once we receive the Americans Elect and Reform Party nominations" ... aaaannnd we'll stop you right there. No one is going to get that "Americans Elect nomination."

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Around the Web

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The Case for Dick Lugar - WSJ.com

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