Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Trump Loses Louisiana

Pro-life conservative Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards re-elected in close race
John Bel Edwards Campaigns In New Orleans Ahead Of Gubernatorial Runoff Election

Looks like big turnout in the cities pushed Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to re-election over Republican Eddie Rispone, despite the fact that Donald Trump visited the state three times to campaign for Rispone. Here’s how the vote shook out by parish, according to The Lens NOLA:

You see that the population centers — New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport — broke for Edwards. I bet we’ll find out that black voter turnout was very strong. I’m already seeing reports that urban turnout today was much higher than in the open primary.

I voted straight-ticket Republican, except for governor, where I did as I did four years ago, and voted for John Bel Edwards. Edwards is a veteran legislator who is pro-life (he signed the Heartbeat Bill earlier this year) and pro-gun rights. He’s got a record, and he’s got a platform. Rispone is a successful Baton Rouge businessman who has never held office, and, notably, if you check his website, he doesn’t have a platform. He ran entirely on personality: being a conservative Christian Republican businessman endorsed by Donald Trump.

And it wasn’t enough. Not even in red Louisiana, where the legislature is massively Republican.

Again, we will have to wait for the data to come in to know why Edwards won. I believe that the well-publicized Trump rallies certainly gigged the pro-Rispone vote, but in my case, they really turned me off. This especially, from a couple of days ago:

I’m sick of that crap. Just sick of it. Had JBE not been demonstrably pro-life, I might have sucked it up and gone with Rispone. But the fact that on the most important state issue for social conservatives like me, he’s on the right side — that made a decisive difference. Even so, had I voted for Rispone, it would have been in spite of Trump. Spend some time watching his braggart jackassery at the rallies. You’ll see.

He didn’t much talk about Rispone at his rallies. It was all about himself. From The Baton Rouge Advocate:

During his three 90-minute rallies, Trump spent most of the time attacking U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who heads the impeachment inquiry, and cataloging what he’s done while president.

What any of that has to do with governing the state of Louisiana is hard to see. Rispone and Trump also tried to tar Edwards with the left-wing “radical” label, which is just stupid. Whatever else JBE is, he’s not a left-wing radical. But that’s all Rispone had — that, and Trump.

The last time the GOP held both the governor’s mansion and the legislature, things did not go well for my state. These past four years — Democratic governor, Republican legislature — have been better. Note well: Rispone did not have a platform. He’s just a rich businessman who thought it was enough to make conservative noises, and associate himself with Donald Trump. Louisiana is not rich enough or stable enough to endure a pass-the-biscuits-Pappy governor who takes orders from his rich funder. Lane Grigsby, a wealthy Baton Rougean who gives generously to GOP politicians, bragged last month to a journalist, “I’m the kingmaker. I talk from the throne.”

Thing is, Grigsby was not just talking nonsense. Had Rispone won, given his political inexperience, Grigsby would have been the real power in the state.

So look, here’s a wild theory that’s totally plausible to me:

The LSU Tigers are undefeated this year, and the No. 1 team in the nation. It’s hard to overstate the good feeling here because of that, especially last weekend’s win over the Crimson Tide, our archenemy. If we had the chance to acclaim Coach Ed Orgeron dictator by divine right, we would. With things going well generally in the state, and with the Tigers doing better this year than they have since at least 2007, the last time LSU won a national championship, and on track to be the first undefeated team in Tigers history since the legendary 1958 squad. I know this won’t make sense to non-Southerners, but in a very close race like tonight’s gubernatorial contest, stuff like this matters.

The big national headline, though, is that Donald Trump couldn’t even beat the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, in a state that is heavily Republican. Don’t get cocky, national Democrats. Gov. Edwards, a pro-life Catholic, is not a liberal Democrat; had he been, he would have lost. Had he vetoed the heartbeat bill, he would have gone down. Louisiana is still a conservative state that’s going to vote for Trump in 2020. That said, given all the effort Trump spent trying to recapture the governor’s mansion in Louisiana for the GOP, his failure is meaningful.

UPDATE: A comment from my Baton Rouge friend Ryan Booth, a former state-level Republican party leader in Louisiana:

The pro-life movement needs Democrats. If it’s exclusively a GOP movement, it will always have half the country against it. I am 46 years old, and today was the first time I’ve ever voted for a Democrat in a statewide election. This was a good post, but it should also mention that Rispone ran a dirty primary campaign against Ralph Abraham. If Rispone was going to run dishonest ads in a campaign, why should I think that he’d be a good governor?

UPDATE.2: Good comment from Nicholas Jagneaux:

Gov. Edwards visited the high school where I teach (Ville Platte High) last week to congratulate us on our much improved academic performance. I know that the stop was also a part of his GOTV campaign. But, we genuinely deserved the recognition.

While he was there I made sure to tell him that – even though I was a thoroughly conservative Catholic – he had my vote. I pointed out to him that it was precisely because of his pro-life policies. It’s important to tell moderate, pro-life Democrats that they can get the votes of social conservatives so that they know why they’re winning. I really hope (though I doubt) that national Democrats will see that being pro-life is a winning issue.

Having said that, what really pushed JBE over the top was the New Orleans vote. Orleans parish gave JBE *over a 100K advantage*. Statewide, JBE only won by 40K votes. Orleans Parish was definitely the difference maker.

What drove it? As I don’t live there, I can only guess right now. Based on my personal acquaintances, black voters were *very motivated* to get out and vote this time, compared to the primary. It wasn’t just a D. vs R. situation. The black friends that I have on Facebook emphasized Rispone’s ties to Trump, tinging them with racism. This was a vote much more personal than party politics. Seeing that Orleans parish is over 60% black, I think that we can safely assume that JBE owes his victory, not to pro-life white conservatives, like you and me; but to black voters who will come out in big numbers to stop Trump. If the Democrats could just settle on a sane candidate for 2020, Trump will lose the national election – and maybe even Louisiana.