If Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is at all worried that former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston has now thrown his support behind Republican Donald Trump, she might want to give her old Senate colleague Mary Landrieu a call.
The last time Livingston tried to engineer a move to unite fractured Republicans behind someone he hoped would be a winning candidate, Landrieu wound up going to the Senate and staying for 18 years.
Livingston, the former Metairie Congressman and House Speaker-designate who walked away from the job and reemerged as one of Washington’s top lobbyists, has now charged head-on into his party’s hot and heavy debate over whether to accept the blustering billionaire as its standard-bearer, or do anything and everything to block him.
In fact, Livingston told reporters in Washington that his endorsement was motivated by the “Never Trump” movement among Republicans who either loathe Trump’s crass, mean-spirited rhetoric, his policy ignorance and his unorthodox brand of conservatism — or simply think having him at the top of the ticket would doom GOP chances come November.
“That’s what got me mad and that’s why I’m here,” Livingston said following a closed-door meeting with Trump.
Livingston’s sudden emergence at Trump’s side is bound to invoke memories of 1996, when he tried to cull a large Republican field competing for Louisiana’s open U.S. Senate seat and rally support behind the most controversial of the candidates, Woody Jenkins.
Livingston was still in Congress back then, serving as the powerful Appropriations Committee chair; his elevation to Speaker-elect, followed quickly by his stunning resignation on the day of Clinton’s husband’s impeachment amid breaking news of his own sex scandal, was more than two years off.
Jenkins, it so happens, is now one of the Trump campaign’s Louisiana co-chairs, but Livingston’s move two decades ago didn’t grow out of a special relationship with the then-Baton Rouge state rep, who was considered the most extreme member in a large field. Instead, it was strategic; Livingston was trying to signal to Republican voters that they should back Jenkins, who led narrowly in the polls, in the open primary or risk the possibility of allowing either two Democrats or a Democrat and former Klansman David Duke to reach the runoff. (Duke, of course, has also signaled his support for Trump this year).
It worked, to a point. Jenkins wound up making the runoff, but he lost to Landrieu by such a close margin that it seemed highly likely a more moderate Republican could have triumphed.
Livingston may be long gone from Congress, but his nod to Trump is noteworthy because he remains a decidedly establishment figure. He’s also something of a political blue-blood, a descendant of the man who swore in George Washington and helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. His announcement Monday created a mini-storm of shock, and in at least one case, dismay among longtime associates.
Yet Livingston showed now sign of self-doubt, according to a Bloomberg news report on the meeting.
“I am really, really irritated by these people who think they’re smarter than the American people,” he said. “The American people are expressing themselves loudly and in just about every state, in most of the primaries, and he’s getting most of the votes; and for me, that’s very, very important.”
Livingston topped all that off with some fighting words in the ongoing battle over the Republican Party’s soul.
“Donald Trump has an unusual appeal,’ he said, “the likes of which we haven’t seen much since Ronald Reagan.”
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.