We have two reactions to this, because there’s the larger issue surrounding Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser’s address at the quarterly meeting of the Republican State Central Committee in Baton Rouge on Saturday on one hand.
And then there’s the more specific issue of what Nungesser said about The Hayride.
We’ll deal with the latter issue first. But before we do that, here are two video clips encompassing the whole speech…
When we initially heard about what Nungesser said we got very anxious to see this video because as it was described to us it sounded a lot like slander.
But it wasn’t quite that.
What we heard was that Nungesser said people had paid us to trash him for appearing at John Bel Edwards’ 2018 tax-hike rally in Lafayette. That would have been slander – nobody needs to pay us to object to Republicans standing with Edwards to raise taxes.
What Nungesser actually says in the video, which is about halfway through the 2nd clip, is that the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority spent money to spread our post to Republicans, presumably on Facebook.
That is probably true; we have no recollection of it but it sounds like something LCCM might have done.
Nungesser said our post was a lie, though, and that we take exception to.
He might want to say he’s not for higher taxes. But he’s responsible for what message he sends, not us. And any reasonable person would conclude that when Billy Nungesser appears at a John Bel Edwards rally specifically called to push tax increases in order to fund a bloated state government, and Nungesser takes to the podium to give a speech at which he does not object to tax increases but rather discusses the necessity of fully funding the office of culture and tourism that he oversees, that Nungesser is sending a pro-tax hike message.
He did that. He might regret it, but he did it.
Sorry, Billy. We accurately reported what you did at that rally, and we accurately reported your reaction to being criticized by conservatives like Rep. Blake Miguez for it.
But then there’s the larger issue here, which is Nungesser showing up at an RSCC meeting where most of the attendees are fairly passionately in favor of closing the primaries and giving a very self-serving and caustic speech attacking those in favor of that position.
Billy Nungesser has decided that the path for him to be governor in 2023 is to be the Democrats’ favorite Republican. He thinks that if he can get into a runoff with Jeff Landry he’ll get all the Democrat votes and he’ll win. Which you may choose to believe is the explanation for why Nungesser was conspicuously absent when President Trump came through Louisiana in 2019 to support Eddie Rispone’s gubernatorial bid. and why he seems to be around all the time to introduce Edwards at this speaking engagement or that.
And why Nungesser is now decrying the idea of closed primaries, which have produced a whole lot more principled, productive and competitive political class than Louisiana has, and going so far to tout the political center at a Republican State Central Committee meeting.
He even ended up in a physical confrontation with RSCC member Carl Benedict after his speech Saturday, something Nungesser isn’t unknown for. In 2018 at the Elephant Stomp, the annual soiree put on by the Republican delegations in the state legislature, Nungesser and Miguez had a very public dustup.
What’s this all about? There’s a theory out there which we haven’t fully signed on to but can’t discount, which holds that Nungesser sees himself as Louisiana’s next governor and he thinks it’s time for him to start acting that way.
Edwards, after all, is apparently ready to move on, and reportedly he wants the job of ambassador to the Vatican. You’ll know this is true when you start seeing news reports about how devout a Catholic Edwards is (he’s a lot more devout a politician than he is a Catholic, though). The story goes that Edwards is going to stick it out through the Legislature’s redistricting process, but after that’s over he’s off to see the Pope.
That would make Nungesser the governor.
And Billy then is the de facto head honcho within the Louisiana GOP, which he would then mobilize as his re-election committee.
Which is why Billy is now giving speeches essentially saying to the RSCC, “I’m the guy telling you how it is.” That the LAGOP needs to be a “centrist” party and not a conservative one. And that Jeff Landry, John Kennedy, Miguez and LCCM are “extremists” who shouldn’t lead the party.
So far as we can tell this overture was not received as well as Billy had hoped. All weekend long we got calls from RSCC members furious about having to sit through it, and we must have gotten a half-dozen links to the Advocate’s story about the speech, which contained something else we didn’t see on the video above, that Nungesser blamed an FBI investigation into his office on Republican detractors, between Saturday afternoon and Sunday night.
If Billy thought this was going to be the moment when he convinced the faithful he’s the guy they want as the next governor, it seems like he blew it. The point would be to make yourself sellable to the conservatives so that you can them reach toward the middle, rather than position yourself in the middle by giving the middle finger to the conservatives.
He did the latter. It was a mistake. He’s hardening the most fervent GOP voters against him, and he’s setting himself up to be a very interim governor at best.