Last week’s tweet-a-rama — the one anointing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as the chosen one in a GOP presidential primary that hasn’t officially started — triggered a series of national reports about the re-emergence of a wing of the Republican Party that is more moderate than the one that represents unwavering, evangelical social conservatism.
Calling them “Blue Republicans,” The New York Times, for instance, says the more populous and more well-funded wing is the reason why more red conservatives are elected to Congress while nationally, the party taps relative moderates.
Louisiana’s Republican Party falls in the conservative red camp, but it’s not that easy, says Roy Fletcher, a longtime GOP strategist who helped elect Republican governors and handled the primary campaigns for GOP presidential contenders.
“We don’t have that kind of blue,” Fletcher said of the moderate GOP, which is primarily located in the North. “We have a lot of different shades of purple.” By that, he means fiscal conservatives who have varying degrees of fidelity to the tenets of social conservatism.
He has no real statistics, but his gut feeling after 40 years of working Louisiana political campaigns is that the various factions — fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, tea party conservatives, Christian conservatives, moderate conservatives — are more or less about the same size.
The trick is creating a coalition between a couple of factions that would present more than half the votes cast.
Since assuming the mantle as the dominant party in a one-party state, Louisiana Republicans have splintered along philosophical lines, much like the Democrats did when they were in charge. Instead of “pro-Huey” or “anti-Edwin,” Louisiana Republicans are splitting along philosophical lines, such as how much government should discourage homosexuality — some are against gay marriage, others don’t care; whether the termination of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest should be allowed — some say yes, others say personhood begins at conception; and whether public school students can be tested on higher math, science and English standards — some fear federal overreach, others say higher standards produce a better-trained workforce.
Everyone in Louisiana is a “fiscal conservative,” even Democrats, said Woody Jenkins, who heads the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish and who came within about 6,000 votes of becoming the first Republican since Reconstruction to win a U.S. Senate seat from Louisiana.
All the elected officials in the state recognize the problem of spending one-time money. And no politician, in Louisiana anyway, wants to be seen as raising taxes.
No, the defining issues are the social ones, Jenkins said.
Back in the ’70s, when the entire party could meet in Dave Treen’s Metairie living room, the members of the Republican Party also belonged to country clubs as befitting successful businessmen, lawyers and doctors. But over the intervening years, as more voters joined the GOP, the Louisiana party has moved further and further to right, Jenkins said.
“We now have more Republicans in the Legislature, but are they more conservative than the Legislature was 30, 40 years ago, when everyone was a Democrat? I don’t think so,” Jenkins said.
“Even though we have a Republican Legislature, we certainly don’t have a conservative one,” said Bob Reid, who heads the Tea Party of Louisiana. He wants Louisiana Republicans to adopt the tight fiscal policies as well as the social positions that better reflect the growing numbers of conservative Christians that are aligning with the tea party movement.
Jason Hebert began his career working for the state GOP and was part of Louisiana’s shift from blue to purple to red to deep red.
That shift was in party branding more so than in absolutist philosophy, he said. But what will be more important than party this fall, when Louisiana voters select a new governor, statewide officials and legislators, will be the individual candidates and how well each can articulate solutions to state government problems, principally the budget, he said.
“In 2015, the question is ‘Does brand matter when they go to vote for sheriff or police juror or alderman?’ ” Hebert said. “Does party really permeate down?”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard@the advocate.com, and he is on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.