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Richard Lugar is just the latest moderate Republican to leave the Senate. Some have retired, while others, like Lugar, have lost to challengers from the right. For more, I am joined by a moderate Republican who served three terms in the Senate alongside Richard Lugar representing Missouri, John Danforth.
Senator Danforth, welcome to the program.
JOHN DANFORTH: Thank you.
CORNISH: So, to begin, what does Senator Lugar's defeat say to you about the state of things for the Republican Party?
DANFORTH: Well, let me first say that I never thought of Dick Lugar as what you would call a moderate Republican. What does his defeat tell me? It tells me that there is an attempt by a lot of people to purge the Republican Party and to kick out of it people who do not hue a very strict party line.
CORNISH: Now, the other argument has been that, essentially, this is the party becoming closer in line with its ideological roots and with the ideological activists who say they want better representation of their voice.
DANFORTH: I mean, what are the roots of the Republican Party? The Republican Party traditionally has been a party that has tried to keep the role of the federal government light, federal spending under control. If the Republican Party suddenly has turned into a party that enjoys, for example, bashing gays and making Hispanics feel that they're not welcome in our country, then that doesn't have anything to do with the Republican Party that I was a part of.
CORNISH: I want to get back to something you mentioned earlier about bipartisanship. This is something that Senator Lugar mentioned in his statement about the idea of bipartisanship being equated with centrism or deal cutting, that those two things are sort of conflated, even though maybe they're not quite the same in what kind of effect that has.
DANFORTH: Well, it's long been said, politics is the art of compromise and it is and, if you're in government, and particularly if you're in the legislative branch of government, eventually you have to try to work things out or else you're nothing but a windbag. And that's where I think we are now in American government. I think that we're in - people who really are absolutely in love with the sound of their own voices, but they can't get anything done.
CORNISH: At the same time, what are voters trying to say here? I mean, you look at the last year where there was a lot of stalled legislation and the response has been further, as you call, purging of voices that are more inclined to cross party lines.
DANFORTH: Take Indiana. I mean, this is a slice of the electorate. This is not the entire electorate, even though Dick Lugar lost 60-40. So it's 60 percent of Republicans who voted in Indiana who took this hard-edged position. That's an awful lot of people. But, as far as the American people as a whole are concerned, I think the American people believe that something terrible is happening in Washington, that it's just not working and it's been stalled by people who, as I say, love to hear the sound of their own voices, but they couldn't organize a three car parade.
CORNISH: Is there any going back?
DANFORTH: Yeah. No. I haven't given up hope. I think that those of us who think this thing is broken have to hang in there. And I think we've got to push back and I think we've got to be more articulate and more insistent on stating our views. And those of us who are what I would call traditional Republicans have to say, you may want to kick us out. We're not leaving.
I mean, we're hanging in there. We still believe in the principles of our party. We still believe in limited government. We still believe that Obama is heading in exactly the wrong direction for our country and we've got to hang together and join forces.
CORNISH: John Danforth, thank you so much for talking with us.
DANFORTH: Thank you.
CORNISH: John Danforth, former Republican senator from Missouri. He also served as ambassador to the UN under President George W. Bush.
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