SEVEN LESSONS FROM AN ELECTION-NIGHT DUMPSTER FIRE: Lesson Three

THE JINDAL FACTION OF THE LOUISIANA GOP EXPLODED A SUICIDE BOMB ON THE VITTER FACTION, AND KILLED BOTH.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
– Abraham Lincoln

You might have noticed the rather peculiar timing of Bobby Jindal announcing the end of his hopeless presidential campaign and returning to Louisiana less than a week before Saturday’s runoff election, offering up a “budget solution” which reeked of the same card tricks he’s been using to obfuscate the state’s billion-dollar structural fiscal disorder and then lambasting David Vitter (and John Bel Edwards as well, but let’s not lose sight of the topic at hand) the day before the election for not presenting detailed solutions to a problem he’s allowed to build for eight years.

You might have noticed it if you also noticed the peculiar silence of Jindal’s man Scott Angelle, whom he had retained from his time as Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources under Kathleen Blanco, supervised his transition and re-branding from Democrat to Republican, appointed Lt. Governor, appointed to the LSU Board of Supervisors, aided in landing a lucrative position on the corporate board of Sunoco Logistics and festooned with a campaign apparatus for the latter’s gubernatorial run, after Vitter made the runoff.

Angelle’s truculence when it was obvious his best interests were served by standing with his fellow Republican to keep the governor’s mansion from falling in Democrat hands was a significant factor, though hardly a dispositive one, in Vitter’s defeat Saturday. Had he done his duty for the party, he would have engendered the goodwill of the state’s conservatives, proven himself as one of them despite having been a Democrat as late as 2010, made a large step to heal the stupid rift between the Jindal and Vitter factions of the state party and created an obligation on the part of both Vitter and the party at large to find something significant for Angelle to run for and win.

Like, for example, the Congressional seat of Charles Boustany which will open up when the latter runs for the Senate next year. Or even the Senate seat itself.

Angelle was even reportedly called by a prominent oilfield magnate from southwestern Louisiana with an offer – endorse and support Vitter and the businessman would donate a million dollars to a PAC to support his next political run. He refused.

Thus the Jindal faction – the outgoing governor, Angelle, Jindal’s political guru Timmy Teepell who was behind Angelle’s campaign all along though never publicly acknowledged – was able to damage Vitter’s campaign at the crucial time.

If you doubt this was happening, let met prove it to you…

And it was a fortunate ploy, because Vitter’s loss was so pronounced that it can’t merely be blamed on the machinations of the Jindal faction. Had Vitter lost a close race, like the 52-48 defeat Jindal suffered at Blanco’s hands in 2003, the blame would have fallen very largely on the heads of the Jindal faction for not supporting the party’s candidate. But at 56-44, the worst defeat for the GOP in a governor’s race since the 61-39 thrashing David Duke, who the party was horrified by, took at the hands of Edwin Edwards in 1991, they’d largely escape responsibility for the bomb they exploded in Vitter’s face.

Except Jindal, and his political successors, aren’t so lucky. Because at the end of the day there will be a great deal of analysis that another part of Vitter’s defeat lies at his hands not due to his own horning in on Vitter’s action late in the campaign or Angelle’s reticence to support the Republican ticket but his poor performance as governor during his final term. A UNO survey taken after the primary showed Jindal with a disapproval rate of a staggering 70 percent and the governor polling far lower than either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in a red state. The national media will doubtless offer analysis of the headwinds Jindal’s failed governorship (which might be an arguable characterization but certainly one that will be made) laid in front of the Republican contender in this race; comparisons are inevitable to Maryland’s failed Democrat governor Martin O’Malley, also in the midst of a hopeless presidential run, in that after eight similar years of the latter his party couldn’t hold a governorship despite a friendly electorate.

So Jindal can’t escape blame, and ill will, for Vitter’s debacle, even while he might quietly take credit for playing a hand in it.

Who is to blame for this idiocy? Jindal’s faction unquestionably deserves a huge share. The selfishness on display has been breathtaking; one would have thought after Neil Riser’s humiliating loss to Vance McAllister in the 2013 5th District special election Jindal would have done what he could to rebuild relationships around the state and attempt to lessen the toxicity of his brand, but instead he and his people actually used it as a weapon against another Republican. And for what? To maintain influence within the Louisiana GOP for a little longer?

That said, when it came to launching public attacks Vitter gave as good as he got. He’s put Jindal under withering fire ever since Candidate Jindal abandoned the Senator back in 2007 when the scandal of his former extramarital conduct first broke. Vitter’s criticisms of Jindal were based in policy, and defensible in that regard, but hardly kind. And Vitter supported state treasurer John Kennedy’s constant carping at Jindal on the budget, in fact co-authoring a number of critiques with Kennedy on specific spending items. He may have had good reason to fan the feud with Jindal in such a way, but fan it he did.

For the rest of the Louisiana GOP not party to the stupid, and counterproductive, feud between the two, the likely answer will be a pox on both their houses and a demand to reshuffle the political deck with new players and a new hierarchy. In this, Vitter might be at an advantage. The vast majority of the state’s higher elected officials – new Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser, Kennedy, new Attorney General Jeff Landry, Sen. Bill Cassidy, Reps. Steve Scalise, Charles Boustany, John Fleming and Ralph Abraham – identify with Vitter’s camp. So too does Rep. Garret Graves, who worked for both Vitter and Jindal (the latter as head of the state’s coastal restoration efforts) and might be able to help bring peace among the factions. Jindal’s legacy is likely bound up in Angelle, who rather than endorsing Vitter now finds himself having semi-declared himself a candidate for Vitter’s Senate seat against a threesome of Boustany, Kennedy and Fleming (plus a Democrat likely named Landrieu) and a target for retribution by the 44 percent of the electorate who voted for Vitter last night. Angelle making a Senate runoff under those circumstances is highly unlikely; the national Republican Party will make sure he’s not the standard bearer, and they’ll have plenty of help.

Should Angelle aim lower, for example at Boustany’s Congressional seat, you can bet that won’t come easy, either. Instead of clearing the field for him to replace the Congressman it’s more likely that Vitter and his allies will stack it with challengers. Outgoing Lafayette Parish president Joey Durel could be one. State representatives Blake Miguez or Stuart Bishop could be others. There is no shortage of potential candidates in that race who don’t have the baggage Angelle now carries, or the burning desire of the Vitter faction to take him out.

But with Vitter leaving the scene, it won’t be “his” faction anymore, nor will there be one of Jindal’s. That might benefit the state GOP as a whole; the inability of the two to get along has been a distraction that ultimately played a role in the state’s two most prominent Republicans combining to lose the governor’s mansion to a lowly, unaccomplished state representative from a town with a population of 4,000.



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