Former Sen. Richard Lugar on Wednesday pointed to Republican inflexibility in the opposition to Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination as defense secretary, accusing lawmakers of cherry-picking pieces of Hagel's past, and taking his "legitimately held" positions out of context.
"To selectively pull out of context all of what Chuck Hagel happened to say in those years seems to me to be unfortunate and unfair," Lugar told The Daily Rundown host Chuck Todd.
Lugar, an Indiana Republican who was chased out of Congress by a Tea Party conservative after 36 years of service, says Republicans on the far right are poisoning the legislative well. The longest-serving senator in Indiana's history is breaking his silence about what he has called the conservatives' "inflexible partisan mindset".
"The intensity of opposition that Sen. Hagel is encountering is grounded in the resentments of some conservatives inside and outside the Senate who regard his independent thinking as political blasphemy for which he should not be rewarded," Lugar said.
In his first public speech since leaving Congress in January, Lugar said a premium has been put on extremism and good governance has suffered as a result. "A no-compromise vision of conservatism may score points with conservative talk show hosts and campaign givers," he told an audience at Duke University Tuesday. "But in a democracy, leadership requires an officeholder to compromise, to prioritize, and sometimes to reverse oneself."
He told Todd he believes there's a "general consensus" among state and national Republicans that the conservative influence must wane in order for the GOP to have a shot at regaining the Senate majority. There have to be "candidates who have a sense, at least, of independent thought that appeals, not only to core Republicans, but likewise to Independent voters and even brings some Democratic cross-overs."
To break the current logjam in Congress, the former Indiana Republican said President Obama should tap into his "unifying spirit." But to do so, Lugar says the president needs to adopt a "new style" to put more of an emphasis on reaching out to Republicans.