Dick Lugar and Barack Obama: The End of Bipartisan Bromance

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It was Washington’s most charming bipartisan bromance. When Barack Obama ran for President in 2008, he was eager to embrace Indiana’s Republican Senator, Dick Lugar. Obama dropped Lugar’s name into his announcement speech, featured him in a TV ad, and cited him as a key foreign policy influence in a debate. Hugging Lugar, the widely-admired chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, allowed Obama to show he could work with Republicans—as he and the Hoosier did on a 2006 nuclear nonproliferation bill—and that he had some foreign policy chops. And while Lugar had officially endorsed John McCain, he didn’t spurn Obama’s love, calling himself “pleased” at the association and even defending Obama’s controversial proposal to negotiate with the leaders of hostile foreign nations. That was a testament to Lugar’s moderate foreign policy vision, which was increasingly rare in a neocon-dominated GOP, as well as his disinterest in ritualistic partisan warfare.

It may also have been a testament to Obama’s popularity in Indiana, which the Democrat carried in 2008. But times have changed. Indiana has soured on the president. And the Republican base has soured on Lugar. A Tea Party-backed candidate, Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock, is mounting a strong challenge against Lugar, 80, who was elected the same year as Jimmy Carter and has rarely faced serious opposition since. As the candidates approach a May 8 primary likely to be dominated by conservative activists, Lugar is fending off the charge that he is “Obama’s favorite Republican,” and explaining his votes for the bank bailouts, a debt-limit hike and various earmark-filled spending bills that make the Tea Partiers boil the political waters.

That’s why it’s now splitsville for Lugar and Obama. The typically mild-mannered Senator now trashes the President in his television ads, declaring Obamacare unconstitutional and calling Obama’s budgets reckless deficit-busters. Today Lugar even talks as though he and the President were never an item: “We have not had a close relationship at any point,” he told me in an interview for my story in this week’s print edition of TIME. “I was never hoping to be close to him.” Read my piece, now available online and hitting newsstands Friday, to find out what else Lugar had to say about Obama’s decision to embrace him in 2008, and whether he can hang on for another term despite it.

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