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LA GOP hopes to move past majority growing pains

That so many Louisiana Republicans have come out the woodwork to run for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat next year illustrates the maturation and but possible continued immaturity of the party that gave away its control of the governorship this year.

Loser of that election runoff Sen. David Vitter decided to call it quits in his current spot after that debacle Republicans inflicted upon themselves. Throughout most of that cycle observers considered a GOP candidate a lock to win, and Vitter the favorite to do so.

Republicans have put themselves in the strong position they hold in the state now – near supermajority status in the Legislature; control of the Supreme Court, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Public Service Commission; holders of every state statewide office except soon governor; of the seven U.S. House seats serve in six of them; and have both senators – at the state level less for what they have done than the self-destruction arranged by state Democrats with their insistence on following national Democrats ever further leftward ideologically. This hari-kari encouraged factionalism among Republicans since Democrats made themselves too weak to offer the necessary incentive for the GOP to emphasize the winning conservative ideology that earned them the state’s majority and instead lazily allowed Republicans to base their candidacies and policies on the state’s common past political cultural themes of populism and personalism, making personalities rather than ideology the flashpoints of conflict and policy-making.

Nowhere did this appear more evident in the governor’s race. GOP candidates, to varying degrees, deemphasized ideology and instead engaged in sportive bloodletting among themselves. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne ran an almost non-ideological campaign, stressing experience and competence while presenting an ideologically confused mélange of issue preferences that would lose the race but win him a job in a Democrat’s administration. Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle paid lip service to conservatism in general statements, but a number of his specific issue preferences veered away from it. Even the most consistent ideological conservative in the campaign, Vitter, allowed that to get swamped by responding to personal attacks on him by the other two and on Gov. Bobby Jindal, with this even washing over and moderating some of his conservative policies, further diluting any conservative ideological message.

Such wholesale breaking of the 11th Commandment for the GOP that should land all three in political purgatory for some time came because all felt the stakes so high. The trio believed whichever Republican ended up facing Democrat then-state Rep. John Bel Edwards surely would win. So it became necessary to savage each other to get to the “sure” thing – except they so battered each other while giving Edwards almost a free ride and hopelessly blurring ideological lines that they gave away the trump card of ideology, allowing Edwards to resurrect the populist sentiments still present in the political culture all the way to a victory.

The preamble of the Senate race once again presents the same dynamics: a race thought not losable by Republicans, with a goal of making it to a runoff against a Democrat, attracting all sorts of competitors. That dynamic demonstrates the maturity of the party in that it has majority status that produces officeholders (until Democrats move to the center) unless they act in ways to throw away the election.

Its existence does not invalidate the dynamic of immaturity that remains in the background – that a party that does have a glue of conservatism to keep its candidates bound to each other, which allows fixation on person rather than on ideas, thereby invites personalistic campaigning and governing. As part of that campaigning comes the potentially destructive mode as witnessed in the governor’s race.

As things stand, the only initial difference between this year’s gubernatorial contest and next year’s Senate race is the number of candidates, as Vitter’s presence self-deported a few GOP names from consideration. Had he not run, conveying that perception of a heavy favorite, that contest may have doubled in the number of serious Republicans running.

Where things go from here depends upon whether the GOP candidates involved have a better understanding that they must seek to differentiate themselves on the bases of issue preferences, competence, and experience. Even though this kind of contest’s dynamics make a Democrat upset even less likely than the long shot it was for the governor’s race – higher turnout and more disproportionately Republican with Democrat candidates more easily linked to the greater ideological content of national office – fratricidal behavior stemming from lambasting Republican opponents on personal grounds again would open the door to frittering away normally a sure thing.

Louisiana Republicans as politicians will mature completely when all understand that elections have policy consequences, that even if they lose they benefit by having somebody in position to further their presumed agenda. Alleged conservative candidates who turn on others with personal attacks unrelated to genuine issues of competence in office show they put personal gain ahead of serving the people, because just to win power they reduce the chances of adoption of a program they should believe helps the people. It’s a majority party’s growing pains that, GOP partisans may hope, ran their course in the disastrous gubernatorial election.

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