Republicans Still Timid, Grouchy At D.C. Mardi Gras Confabs

Last night, the Mystick Krewe of Louisianians held their annual cocktail party in advance of this weekend’s Mardi Gras balls, and The Hayride sent spies out to gather political tidbits and rumors at the event.

What we uncovered was, surprisingly, a rather downcast set of Republican politicos even amid the rays of light breaking through the clouds with Tuesday’s surprise election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

Among the tidbits of local interest served up to our operatives:

– St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis, whose reputation among Republicans around Louisiana is tainted – at best – thanks to his support of now-radioactive Mary Landrieu in the 2008 Senate race, is making plans to run for Lieutenant Governor this fall should Mary’s brother Mitch win the New Orleans mayoral election. Speculation has it that Mary will be expected to reciprocate Davis’ 2008 support in the Lt. Gov. race if it happens. But if Davis is in the race, he won’t be alone; Secretary of State Jay Dardenne is running for the state’s No. 2 post whether it comes open this year, should Mitch win in New Orleans, or next year, even if he has to run against Mitch.

– As for the top of the state’s government, the word is that if you’re waiting for Bobby Jindal to make a move nationally in 2012, keep waiting. Jindal has picked up quite a few detractors among national Republicans who have been watching him intently since his election as Louisiana’s governor in 2007; his stock started dropping when he gave a dud of a televised speech in answer to President Obama’s State of the Union address last year, and it has continued to sag since.

The national Republican perception of Jindal is fairly similar to some of the local dissent. He’s seen as less-dynamic than hoped and his leadership hasn’t been as forceful as the faithful were looking for. Several key issues bring his approval down among conservatives and GOP stargazers:

First, Jindal’s passive approach to the legislative pay raise fiasco in 2008 was a black mark. He might have been correct in letting the leges twist in the wind, but the aesthetics of his involvement didn’t come off well at all. 

Second, his tepid support for the proposed elimination of the state’s income tax, initially proposed as a legislative trap but which caught on like wildfire with an excited public, got him nowhere. Jindal didn’t get credit for the income tax cuts which did become law, and now he’s being blamed for the state’s current budget woes for those cuts. It’s the classic result from standing in the middle of the road.

Third, Jindal hasn’t gotten out in front of education reform, and Louisiana is the perfect test tube for creating a complete free-market educational system. This state has an enormous private-school population already, it has demonstrated (particularly in New Orleans) that success among minority communities with private schools is possible, its overall public-school educational performance has been horrendous through the years and the charter school experience in New Orleans has demonstrated better than anywhere else how school choice can be a big winner. But the perception is that Jindal isn’t out in front of what could be a colossal national issue for the GOP, and a window is being missed.

And fourth, while Louisiana’s Republicans and Democrats alike have groused about Jindal’s globetrotting in search of campaign funds the national GOP muckety-mucks aren’t any more impressed. While he has done decent work raising funds for other candidates, Jindal has banked a great deal of money for his own re-election – he’s raised some $3.5 million for his 2011 re-election fund so far – and they think it’s overkill. The state’s Democrats have virtually no one capable of beating Jindal that he needs to build such a war chest so quickly, and he can’t use a Louisiana campaign fund to run in a federal election. They think he’s wasted his time on the rubber-chicken circuit when he could have been more effective in governing the state.

The perception is that Jindal is a capable administrator, but not a “front man” at the national level. If he wants to run for president or VP in 2012, he’s not doing himself too much good.

While the local news might only be slightly surprising, the national gossip is more so.

When GOP chairman Michael Steele told Sean Hannity earlier this month “No” after being asked if the Republicans could take over control of the House of Representatives this fall, it apparently wasn’t a gaffe. Insiders now say they’re not sure they want to seize the majority this fall in either the House or the Senate – they want enough gains so as to be able to defeat the worst of the Obama administration’s policies, but having majorities would give the president a ready-made scapegoat for his poor governance.

What they’d like would be for the real GOP wave to hit in 2012, giving the party a governing majority much like the one Obama had in his first year.

But there’s a problem with that idea – namely that no Republican has emerged as a credible challenger to Obama yet, and these insiders say it’s doubtful at this point that they’ll find one who can beat him.

If this is indeed the perception within the Beltway, one could argue it reflects the leadership atop the party. Despite the national shift rightward over the course of the past year, the GOP has spent more than it has taken in every month since July, and the Democrats are beating the Republicans in overall fundraising in the midst of the nation as a whole turning away from left-wing government.

If Beltway Republicans aren’t willing or able to ride the wave of popular sentiment against big-government statism propagated by their political opponents this year, they are going to make it easy for a third party – which is already beating them in hypothetical polling – to become a reality. Some understand this; others just shrug their shoulders.

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