The House of Delusions Is Cheap to Build, But Drafty to Live in and Ready at Any Instant to Fall
“The house of delusions is cheap to build but drafty to live in, and ready at any instant to fall.”
— A. E. Housman
If we are going to learn from the recent election and not repeat our mistakes in the future, we have to be honest with ourselves and not blindly repeat our own campaign slogans and dogmas as though they were in fact true.
Much of Sen. Vitter’s $10 million plus campaign budget was spent promoting the simple proposition that John Bel Edwards is Obama or at least a radical leftist. It was an attempt to “nationalize” the Governor’s race and identify Edwards with radical left-wing policies that most Louisianians hate.
The proposition, which is demonstrably false, failed miserably. If you can’t sell a proposition to the voters of the state with $5-$10 million behind it, you’re not going to be able to sell it at all.
At the same time that the Vitter campaign was trying to nationalize the election, the Edwards’ campaign tried to make it all about character. It attempted to show that Edwards was a man of character and Vitter was not. It did so in a way that undermined the claim that Edwards is Obama. Edwards relied on his days at West Point, the Honor Code, and his service as an officer in the U.S. Army. Then he showed his deep roots in law enforcement. His grandfather was the sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish, as was his father and as is his brother.
Now let’s stop there for a moment. If Edwards is a respected military man with a record of service to our country and his family is deeply rooted in law enforcement, John Bel Edwards is not Obama. Those two important points alone neutralized the constant repetition of the theme that “Edwards is Obama.” The Vitter campaign had no way to disprove Edwards’ military and law enforcement credentials. So they stood.
But Edwards didn’t stop there. He produced a pro-life spot featuring his wife and daughter, which was one of the best if not the best spot of the campaign. Edwards was a strong advocate of the right to keep and bear arms, and he even supported the state’s constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.
Let’s pause there. Pro-military, pro-law enforcement, pro-life, pro-gun, and against same sex marriage. Box after box was checked off. Almost every TV spot Edwards ran emphasized in some way the issue of character. Edwards was building his own theme while undermining Vitter’s claim that Edwards is Obama.
Now here’s the thing — 31 percent of Louisiana voters are black, and they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Plus there are union members, teachers, state employees, and white liberals who always vote Democratic. The baseline of the Democratic vote in Louisiana is 44 to 45 percent. (Landrieu 44 percent in 2014 and Kip Holden 45 percent in 2015). It only takes 5 or 6 percent of the voters to swing to the Democrat to win the election. Add to that the fact that Edwards came across as more likable (which is how many voters decide the election) and the fact that the Dems had a good voter ID and turnout campaign. In the end, an election that could have been close was not.
In order to win in the years ahead, Republicans must offer their best possible candidates and run their best possible campaigns. They must also grow their base without destroying that base. By that, I mean reaching out to new voters without losing your core support. It doesn’t mean becoming more liberal, because that would cause you to lose your base. One way to do that is finding new issues that appeal to groups that wouldn’t normally be drawn to you. That can include things that are completely non-political.
For example, the Republican governor of Maryland has recovered from a terrible but successful battle against cancer. He is now making the war on cancer one of his major causes. While the governor had no political motive, his constant identification with the issue could nevertheless have a political effect by making him attractive to cancer victims and their families — even those who may be die-hard Democrats. If you are a former LSU football star who is now running for the State Senate (as former LSU great Tommy Cassanova did a few years ago), there are many people who will vote for you because their love of LSU and football trumps their commitment to the Democratic Party. The list of such potential issues is endless.
Non-traditional issues may be a key to growing the Republican base. Every candidate has pluses he can use to expand his appeal, and each party has issues it can use to expand its base.
With a growing black population that votes Democratic and no real plan to grow the Republican base, the Republican Party is only five to six points away from a tipping point that could dump Louisiana into the Democratic column in election after election. Republican dominance is far from a certainty.
On the other hand, an honest reflection by Republicans on what happened in the election could be the starting point toward developing a winning strategy for the future.
Democrat Claims He Has Votes to Be Speaker. Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans) says he has the commitments from a majority of House members to be elected Speaker of the House. So much for the much-heralded “Republican majority” in the Louisiana House of Representatives! There are 61 Republicans out of 105 members of the House, and they cannot elect a Speaker! My friends, this is proof dit is not enough to elect “Republicans” — we must elect “conservative Republicans” with principles!
The Importance of the Speaker. The Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives is vastly powerful. He appoints every committee chairman and the membership of every committee in the House. That allows him to appoint committees which are not reflective of a majority of the body and thereby bottle up legislation in committee that would pass on the floor.
Under the Louisiana Constitution, the members of the House elect the Speaker. Of course, the governor would love to dominate and control both the Executive Branch of government and the Legislative Branch of government.
But that is not the way the system is supposed to work. It is a gross violation of separation of powers, and it is certainly worth a big fight.
In my first term in the legislature in 1972, the House chose Bubba Henry as Speaker, despite the fact that Edwin Edwards did not favor him.
The Republicans only won a majority in the House within the past four years and there is certainly no “tradition” that would allow a Democratic governor to name the Speaker when the House has a Republican majority! Can you imagine the Republicans having a majority of Congress and allowing a Democratic President to choose the leaders of each body?
Are the 61 Republicans in the State House so weak that they cannot choose a Speaker among themselves like any other legislative body? Allowing the governor to handpick the Speaker is wrong on so many levels, and Republican members of the body who go along with such a violation of the separation of powers should not call themselves Republicans!
Congratulations to John Bel Edwards, Billy Nungesser, and Jeff Landry for their victories! Let’s rally behind them and bring our state together! Louisiana is a wonderful place to live, work, and raise families. We should work together to carry our state to the next level.