The Louisiana Republican Party Is Being Torn Apart by Ambition and In-Fighting

(AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)

It’s pretty important that the national GOP gets its act together with the coming election of chairperson. It’s also important that the Republican Party as a whole needs to shape up ahead of 2024 (and for God’s sake, please start hiring consultants that want to win first and make money second). But, the fact of the matter is that there are several states where the party infrastructure is just as bad off.


In Louisiana, there is a sort of civil war brewing between some Republican politicians and the state party over its (very) early endorsement of one candidate over others for governor.

See, Louisiana is a jungle primary state – everyone is on the ballot, and if no one gets over 50 percent of the vote in the general election, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to a run-off one month later. So, there is no party primary (despite attempts to get that done in the state legislature, it’s never advanced), and the brutal party in-fighting can lead to strange things in the deep red Bayou State – like a Democratic Governor being elected twice.

In 2015, former U.S. Senator David Vitter ran for governor. Vitter had some negatives in his personal history, which were exploited by then-candidate John Bel Edwards, and Vitter lost. Not helping matters was the fact that two other Republicans in the race first attacked Vitter rather than Edwards, and then refused to endorse Vitter after the general election. One of them, former Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, actually endorsed Edwards in exchange for a top job in Edwards’ administration.

Four years later, former Congressman Ralph Abraham ran against Edwards. Also in the race was a millionaire named Eddie Rispone, a longtime GOP donor who decided enough was enough and declared his candidacy. Rispone then poured a ton of money into ads attacking Abraham, a well-liked fellow Republican. The Louisiana GOP, having dealt with in-fighting four years ago, condemned the attack, but did little else and Rispone continued.


The results of that strategy were disastrous. Rispone went on into the run-off against Edwards, and Abraham was out. A large chunk of Abraham’s congressional district either didn’t vote at all or voted for Edwards because of the unfair and misleading attacks against Abraham.

So, Edwards essentially backed into office twice, thanks mostly to Republican in-fighting.

It’s an election year again in Louisiana, and the LAGOP has decided to get the ball rolling on backing a horse early. Attorney General Jeff Landry, a conservative fighter with the blessing of Donald Trump, Jr. and several of Louisiana’s Congressmen, announced before the midterm elections that he was running.

Several other candidates were rumored to be looking at running, but Landry was first out of the gate. Landry’s team then began doing the work of trying to convince the state party to perhaps put together an early endorsement – which they did.

However, several other Republicans who had planned on jumping in the race were furious at the state GOP for making an endorsement before all the candidates were in. But those candidates were still months away from declaring, especially considering that both of Louisiana’s U.S. Senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, were also rumored to be looking at jumping in.


One of the Republicans who has been outspoken about the LAGOP’s early endorsement is Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser.

When the endorsement first became public knowledge, Nungesser sent out the personal contact info of the state GOP’s top brass, making it seem like he wanted his supporters to call and demand answers. Then, on Thursday, he again blasted the state GOP and its chairman, Louis Gurvich. He even demanded that Gurvich resign.

“He is a disgrace to the Republican Party. He’s a disgrace to Louisiana. He ought to resign,” Nungesser said. What drew his ire this week was a column put out by Gurvich and the LAGOP that begged Congressman Garret Graves from jumping into the race, which he was expected to do this week.

“So now, with the thought that Garret Graves might run, they’re making calls again,” Nungesser said. “I got three calls last night — and back to their old threats, promises whatever it takes to browbeat people.”


Nungesser, who was expected to declare for the gubernatorial race this year, ultimately decided to run for re-election as Lt. Governor instead. That leaves state treasurer John Schroder, state senator Sharon Hewitt, and state representative Richard Nelson as three other Republicans running for governor, making four total (and they may not be the only others).


So far, the Democrats haven’t put anyone forward to replace Edwards, though there is talk that his transportation secretary, Dr. Shawn Wilson, is looking at running, as is the state Democratic chairperson, Katie Bernhardt.

I can’t say that I fault the state GOP for endorsing Landry early, though. He is the second-most popular elected Republican in the state (the first is Sen. Kennedy), and has the biggest warchest of the bunch. He’s also been one of the most visible, out fighting on the front lines of the culture war and several key legal battles between the states and the Biden administration. Conservatives throughout the state love Landry.

I can understand the frustrations of the other candidates, but they had a chance to get into the race after Landry did and begin working on getting support and endorsements. They chose not to, and they lost out. However, their personal ambitions are pushing them ahead with their campaigns. It’s less about principle now and more about getting what they think they’ve earned.

Part of the problem is that the LAGOP has, up until this year, been pretty hands-off when it came to candidate recruitment. They just steered money and support where it needed to go, though they did not do enough to try and stop the negativity and in-fighting that led to the party losing the last two gubernatorial elections. As a result, they really don’t command as much authority in the state as they’d like.


Which is something we’re seeing across the country at the state and even the national levels of the GOP. The party structure does not command much respect from the politicians aligned to it. Little wonder they are struggling now.


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