At This Point The Debate Ought To Be Over About Closed Party Primaries

It’s time for closed party primaries in Louisiana elections. Honestly, we should no longer be asking for them. At this point, after what Bill Cassidy did – which we’ve had a number of posts about in the last few days, so I don’t need to hold forth on that subject right now – the asking is over and the telling should begin.

There have been people, particularly on the right, who have been screaming for years that Cassidy was a RINO and that Louisiana could do better than him as a senator. Until now, Cassidy hadn’t given full flesh to that contention by doing something meaningfully terrible. He had reached across the aisle quite often, mostly to pass bipartisan policy initiatives generally in the weeds. Cassidy’s departures from conservative orthodoxy were mostly stylistic.

For example, there was the fiasco in which Cassidy, in talking about health care reform that would replace Obamacare, concocted something he called the “Jimmy Kimmel test,” referencing the late-night TV host whose young son had been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, as a metric for success. That was seen as an attempt to reach some sort of bipartisan accord and a way to move forward, but it was hopelessly naive – Cassidy soon found himself getting viciously bashed by Kimmel, a leftist ideologue with a longtime friendship with Chuck Schumer. Rather than building support across the aisle for a Republican-led Obamacare replacement, Cassidy walked away with a bloody nose and the entire Republican Party telling him “We told you so.”

But that wasn’t quite reason to turn away from Cassidy. Supporting the impeachment of a private citizen brought on fraudulent and unconstitutional grounds when that citizen, when he was president a little less than six weeks ago, engaged in constitutionally protected free speech calling for peaceful demonstrations on Capitol Hill is an indefensible thing to do. Cassidy’s career in elective politics is surely over, though his term won’t expire until January of 2027. There are people howling for his resignation; while the sentiment is surely valid, a Cassidy resignation only makes things worse.

If he resigns, John Bel Edwards, Louisiana’s lame-duck Democrat governor who has won two improbably elections thanks in large part to the state’s jungle primary system, would get to name a replacement until there’s a special election. And Edwards would surely name a replacement calibrated to keep that seat for the Democrats.

Maybe even by appointing himself to the Senate, and then watching a host of Republicans line up to split the vote against him while the national Democrat Party showers him with $25-50 million in special-election campaign cash no Republican could hope to match while there are several of them in the race.

No, Cassidy has to stay in his seat at least until Edwards’ term is over and a Republican governor could replace him.

But this spring the Louisiana legislature has to dump the jungle primary. It can’t continue for any more election cycles.

With a jungle primary when Cassidy first ran against Mary Landrieu in 2014, Rob Maness was not a viable option. Maness positioned himself as the “true conservative” in the race, though his actions subsequent to 2014 cast doubt on whether that was ever a real thing. When Maness endorsed Edwards’ re-election in 2019 it was something of a demonstrative moment.

But assuming Maness was the conservative choice, without being able to vet that in a GOP primary among GOP voters all you really had to go on was the fact you were trying to take out an incumbent Democrat, and you could only really hope to do that by running an established GOP congressman rather than a Tea Party conservative activist. There was a concern, which went away, that Cassidy and Maness would beat each other up so badly Landrieu would skate to victory in the primary.

She didn’t. Edwards nearly did, twice – and the rancor among Republicans running against each other while on the same primary ballot as Edwards in 2015 and 2019 cost David Vitter and Eddie Rispone (or Ralph Abraham, if you want to say he would have been in the runoff but for Rispone’s attacks on him) the opportunity to serve as governor.

Should Cassidy run for re-election in 2026, which we would regard as highly doubtful at this point, the jungle primary would make him harder to beat than a party primary.

And he puts an “R” next to his name. Shouldn’t the voters within the Republican Party have the right to decide whether he’s fit to bear the party’s standard?

As toxic as Cassidy is at the moment, it’s a difficult time for Republican politicians defending the jungle primary – the majority of whom are RINO’s and Democrat turncoats who call themselves Republicans solely to escape the stigma of having a “D” next to their names. Cassidy is now the classic case of the jungle-primary Republican, and opponents of closed primaries are now essentially defenders of Cassidy.

The state GOP, whose executive committee had been engaged in debate over censuring Cassidy for his first vote on impeachment, in which he inexplicably sanctioned it as constitutional, jumped immediately to censure him after his vote on Saturday. Within the party’s leadership there is now a hot passion for closed party primaries, as those are the single greatest device available to give the Republican Party a chance to police its politicians – and Cassidy’s impeachment votes are the object lesson.

There is some support on the Democrat side for party primaries, though the Democrats are less supportive of closed primaries. It isn’t necessary for both primaries to be closed; the parties could choose whether to let independents vote in their primaries or close them to party-registered voters only as the GOP would like to do. But some 57 percent of the registered Democrats in Louisiana are black, and the vast majority of the elected Democrats in Louisiana are black – and yet it’s white trial lawyers who hold the real power in that party. Naturally the Legislative Black Caucus is not opposed to voting in party primaries.

Which means the real opposition to passing a party primary bill in Louisiana this spring will come from the few white Democrats left in the Legislature (and of course the governor, whose veto must be overcome to pass such a bill), and the jungle-primary Republicans. Our guess is those people might be running for the hills after what Cassidy did.

So it’s time for party primaries in Louisiana. Now. We’re not asking; we’re telling.

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