INDIANAPOLIS — Vice President Pence, a fervent defender of President Trump’s nationalistic foreign policy, delivered a eulogy Wednesday for Richard G. Lugar, whose career was the definition of moderate Republican internationalism.
While Pence heaped praise on the former senator from Indiana and called him an “American statesman,” he did not address the yawning gap between the worldviews of Trump and the late lawmaker.
Pence, a former Indiana governor, instead talked of how a legendary pair of Indiana leaders had passed — and left aside churning GOP debates. He spoke admiringly of Lugar and former senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, a Democrat, who died in March.
“It’s remarkable to think that two giants of the 20th century Indiana politics departed this world within a few weeks of each other,” Pence told a crowd of hundreds of mourners at a memorial service at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church here. “This truly is the end of an era.”
Pence mentioned Trump just once, noting that Trump “welcomed” Lugar and former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who worked with Lugar on arms control, to the Oval Office last year “to seek their counsel” before meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Pence’s careful speech, made before pillars of the political establishment who sat solemnly in the front row of the church, was the latest example the vice president’s often uneasy charge: reassuring traditional Republicans and connecting with them on broad themes of faith and service — without ever distancing himself from Trump.
But as much as Pence avoided the uncomfortable tensions confronting the GOP in the Trump era, Wednesday’s service was nonetheless a farewell to a certain kind of Republicanism where international institutions and U.S. allies were celebrated rather than attacked in transactional terms by a president who calls himself a nationalist.
Speaking in April 2016, Lugar did not mention Trump by name, but expressed concern about the direction of American politics.
“We know from numerous lessons of history that popular anger can be manipulated in ways that lead to intolerance, civil unrest, violence, and self-destructive national policies,” Lugar said.
In April of this year, Lugar signed onto a letter with other former lawmakers and national security officials urging Congress and the Trump administration to end Trump’s national emergency declaration.
Lugar, a former two-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who represented Indiana in the Senate for more than three decades, died in late April at 87. He was known for his bipartisan persona — he served as a mentor to President Barack Obama — and for pursuing sweeping agreements to destroy the surplus stock of nuclear weapons.
The slogan for Lugar’s failed run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 was “nuclear security and fiscal sanity,” and he was widely seen as too low-key for the GOP base, even then. Lugar later struggled to deal with the new head winds in the Republican Party that emerged early in this decade, and was defeated by a tea-party challenger during his 2012 Senate primary race.
Lugar’s legacy was front and center as Pence flew to Indianapolis on Wednesday morning. A group of dignitaries accompanied him on the trip, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who grew up in Indiana, along with several other senators. Nunn also traveled with Pence on Air Force Two, trading stories with longtime friends during the flight.
“He was one of my best friends in the Senate,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said on the flight to Indiana. “He did so much.”
Roberts’s appearance drew notice on Twitter and among other political observers, since it’s unusual for the chief justice and Senate majority leader and vice president to be together in any setting, particularly on a flight.
Pence and his wife, Karen, came to the rear of the plane to say hello to Roberts, who was sitting alone, away from the congressional delegation. Their brief exchange appeared to be friendly, with Roberts smiling and saying little.
According to the Indianapolis Star, Roberts once donated $500 to Lugar’s 2000 reelection campaign, before being nominated as a federal judge, and Lugar introduced Roberts at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 2005.
The most pointed eulogy on Wednesday came from Nunn, who described Lugar as a stark contrast to leaders in today’s Washington, where he lamented facts are frequently discarded.
“Dick made the world a safer place and better place,” Nunn said. “Dick Lugar never, ever compromised his principles. . . . He looked carefully at the facts and let them lead him to his conclusions.”
Former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels (R), a favorite of traditional conservatives, called Lugar an icon for a different time in American politics, when bipartisanship was more acceptable.
“We live in such a cynical age,” Daniels said.
Other top Republicans attending, like Pence, were more muted in their references to policy or politics.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking at the memorial service, focused on Lugar’s record and his friendship, and did not mention Trump. His remarks were dotted with anecdotes and light humor, including how Lugar saw donning a “new argyle sweater” as a way of “jazzing things up” during his 1996 presidential bid.
Wednesday’s eulogy was not the first time Pence has faced Republican unease about the party’s sharp turn toward nationalism. A chummy discussion between Pence and former vice president Richard B. Cheney quickly turned into a vigorous back-and-forth over policy at a private event in March, with Cheney voicing concern about Trump’s hard line toward U.S. allies in NATO.
In his remarks Wednesday about Lugar, Pence hewed to talk of Hoosier values and did not wade into the party’s raging waters on foreign policy.
Pence briefly quoted Lugar’s own words — that the United States is a “heroic nation” with a “moral responsibility” to foster freedom and democracy — as a nod toward his work without offering an endorsement or criticism of his approach to foreign policy.
“Dick Lugar left Indiana, America, and the world better than he found it: more at peace, more secure, and with freedom on the rise,” he said.