By John Krull
John Krull, executive editor, TheStatehouseFile.com
INDIANAPOLIS – It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Richard Mourdock right now.
A year ago at this time, Mourdock was a rising star in the Republican Party and the national political firmament. He’d earned national notice as Indiana’s state treasurer – not the easiest thing to do – and he’d waged a successful primary challenge to unseat one of the most honored leaders in the state’s history, his fellow Republican, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar.
At this point in the summer of 2012, Mourdock held a solid lead over his rival, Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in Indiana’s Senate race. By beating Lugar, Mourdock had earned himself a national profile.
He seemed on his way to being a serious player in national politics – an emerging leader in the conservative movement.
A year later, Mourdock is anything but that.
A few days ago, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Mourdock’s fellow Republican, named Auditor Tim Berry as his choice to be the new chairman of the Indiana Republican Party. Once the GOP state committee has approved Berry – a choice that should take about as much time as ink needs in order to dry on a rubber stamp – he will resign his office.
At that point, Pence will get to appoint someone else to serve as auditor for the next 17 months. That person likely won’t be Mourdock, despite the fact that he has expressed interest in becoming auditor after his second term as treasurer concludes at the end of next year.
Much of the analysis suggests that at least a part of the reason Pence chose Berry and set this chain of events in motion was that he and other Republicans wanted to keep Mourdock off the ballot next year.
Mourdock could be forgiven for asking: What happened? What did I do to you that you should treat me this way?
Those are questions with complicated answers.
Many Republicans still are angry at Mourdock for a variety of reasons.
The first is that he cost them a safe seat in the U.S. Senate. Mourdock knocked off Lugar, but then got beat by Donnelly in the fall. The conventional wisdom was that Lugar would have beat Donnelly and kept the seat in Republican hands if Lugar had made it past the primary.
What most people remember about Mourdock’s campaign now, of course, is that at the last debate late in the race, he linked pregnancies that occur following a rape to God’s will. Before he made that statement, Mourdock was running neck and neck with Donnelly and even may have had a slight edge.
After Mourdock’s rape comment, female and moderate voters fled his campaign and he was on his way to a drubbing at Donnelly’s hands.
But it wasn’t just that he got beat. There are few politicians who haven’t lost a race or two. That generally doesn’t stop them from coming back. Pence himself got beat the first two times he ran for Congress.
Mourdock now is paying for the fact that he refused to take a hit for the team last autumn. When it became clear just how damaging Mourdock’s comment about rape was, other Republican candidates scrambled to distance themselves from it.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney issued a statement that night disavowing Mourdock’s comments. The next day, Pence sent out a sharply worded statement urging Mourdock to apologize.
Mourdock didn’t listen. Perhaps because he was fighting for his own political life, he kept the story alive for days.
At a time when Romney wanted to get the nation focused on Barack Obama’s contributions to a sluggish economy recovery and Mike Pence wanted to be talking about his road map for Indiana, Mourdock kept Americans and Hoosiers talking about rape and God’s will.
That may have cost Romney his chance to win the White House and likely drove Pence below the 50 percent mark on Election Day, which, even in victory, weakened the new governor’s hand politically as he took office.
Mourdock didn’t seem to understand that then. Or now.
But that’s because he didn’t run with traditional political calculations in mind. He ran to say what he thought, however cranky or ill-considered it might be, and that’s what he did, even when doing so cost him and his party dearly. That was the source of both his triumph over Lugar and his ultimate downfall.
But that’s also why so many Republicans now feel that they can’t trust him.
If Mourdock is aware of that, it must hurt.
That’s why it’s easy to feel sympathy for him.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.