Two members of his Cabinet have resigned, and other prominent Republicans are distancing themselves from President Donald Trump after he encouraged his followers to march on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, and they attacked the historic building.
Yet amid news reports of a growing anti-Trump movement within the GOP nationally, Louisiana’s Republicans remain solidly behind the president.
Though they have condemned the violence, none of the six Republican members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation have joined colleagues from other states in blaming Trump for the mob that terrorized the Capitol. The assault injured 50 policemen and left one of them dead. Four others died in the riot, one of them shot by police and the others of medical emergencies.
The GOP’s two most important Louisiana fundraisers – bank owner Joseph Canizaro and former shipbuilder Boysie Bollinger – remain Trump supporters.
Five of Louisiana’s six congressional Republicans – with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge the lone exception – voted against accepting at least some of the electoral votes Joe Biden received, in an attempt to deny him the presidency. And despite the belief of Democrats and even some Republicans that those five engaged in seditious, anti-democratic behavior and should pay a political price for doing so, no evidence has yet emerged that they will.
“The five really did the right thing,” Moon Griffon, the pro-Trump talk show host based in Lafayette, said on the air Friday. The group includes U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, of Madisonville, and U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, of Jefferson, Mike Johnson, of Benton, Garret Graves, of Baton Rouge, and Clay Higgins, of Lafayette.
All five men will be up for re-election in two years, with Kennedy up for a second six-year term.
Far from chastising Trump, right-wing media – the primary source of news for many conservatives – is pushing a conspiracy theory that radical leftists known as antifa fomented the attack.
Cassidy has been praised by editorial pages for standing up for the integrity of the November election, even though his candidate didn’t win. But many conservative voters have excoriated him on social media, and Griffon called him “a spineless politician.”
On Friday, Graves went further than his colleagues in telling WWL-AM broadcaster Dave Cohen that Trump made “ridiculous comments” to supporters Wednesday. When Cohen asked whether Graves thought Trump should step down - as Democrats favor – Graves said, “the president needs to do a better job backing off of, apologizing, making it crystal clear that he made huge mistakes … He effectively needs to resign. What I mean by that is that effectively he will not be out there talking, speaking, wielding the full authority and power of the White House and maybe even technically finding a way to hand over the keys to Pence.”
Trump has been the dominant Republican in Louisiana since capturing 58.09% of the state’s vote in 2016 when he was elected president.
Over the next four years, Cassidy and all of Louisiana’s five House members sided with Trump at least 90% of the time on congressional votes, according to a scorecard by fivethirtyeight.com. Kennedy was a notch behind them, backing Trump 88% of the time.
Trump’s dominance in Louisiana continued on Nov. 3 when he captured 58.46% of the vote, the 11th highest percentage he won in a state.
“President Trump has done a great job over the past four years,” said Woody Jenkins, who spent 28 years in the state House from Baton Rouge and who served as one of Louisiana’s eight presidential electors in December.
Wednesday’s bizarre events centered on a constitutional requirement that Congress accept the votes of the Electoral College. Traditionally, this has been little more than a ceremonial vote.
Former U.S. Rep. Henson Moore recently said he had no memory of taking those votes in 1977, 1981 and 1985 when he represented a Baton Rouge-based district in the House.
But Trump saw the certification as perhaps his last best chance to overturn Biden’s victory with allegations of fraud and irregularities, even though courts and election officials from both parties, as well as Attorney General William Barr, found no evidence of substantial wrongdoing.
Trump and his sons railed against the “stolen election” before thousands of followers near the White House and then told them to show strength and march to the Capitol.
There, Trump’s followers barreled through barricades, pushed through doors and broke windows to enter the building and forced lawmakers – including Vice President Mike Pence, a target of Trump’s ire for his refusal to overturn the election – to flee to safety. Eight hours later, after some of the rioters had pranced about the Senate chamber and ransacked the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, police restored order and allowed Congress to resume its debate.
Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly rejected Trump’s effort to derail Biden’s election and approved the electoral slates in Arizona and Pennsylvania, the two states that his congressional supporters had challenged.
The prominent Republicans who have criticized Trump most sharply since Wednesday – including U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah – mostly live in the north, the Midwest and the West. That tracks the votes on Arizona and Pennsylvania, in which Republican delegations from Southern states, including Louisiana and its neighbors, heavily sided with Trump.
In all, 139 of 201 Republican House members sided with the president, or 69%, while only 8 of 51 senators voted with Trump, or 15%. Overall, 58% of Republican House and Senate members voted not to accept the electors in at least one state.
Quin Hillyer, a conservative columnist who worked in Louisiana politics before moving to Alabama 20 years ago, described himself as “furious” with the House and Senate members who sided with Trump.
“How could they not realize they were playing with fire?” Hillyer asked. “How could they not know that a legally improper challenge of an election based on lies – after a year that had been extremely divisive and scary – would not risk a conflagration? I wrote a column on Monday that warned about violence at this rally.”
Hillyer also noted that Cheney, the third-ranking Republican, had refuted the claims by Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and others that they could overturn Biden’s victory.
Scalise was asked whether he and the other Republicans who voted not to accept Biden’s win bore responsibility for encouraging the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday.
“The people responsible are those who attacked law enforcement and stormed the Capitol, and they need to be held accountable,” he said.
Graves addressed the question more directly.
“I completely disagree with any suggestion that anybody who voted against the slate of electors has blood on their hands,” he said. “Is there a subset of those people, including the president of the United States, who bear some responsibility? Absolutely.”
While some business leaders nationally have criticized the president – the normally staid National Association of Manufacturers has even suggested possibly invoking the 25th Amendment to force him out of office – no prominent businessmen in Louisiana have spoken against him.
Stephen Waguespack, who served as chief of staff to then-Gov. Bobby Jindal and now heads the powerful Louisiana Association for Business and Industry, wrote in a column Friday that Trump, rather than running on a strong economic record of job creation, “has relied more on incendiary rhetoric to provoke furor and rage against those who disagree with his positions.”
But Waguespack devoted more space in his column to expressing concerns that Joe Biden will lead the country down a ruinous path of socialism.
Canizaro and Bollinger served as the co-finance chairmen for Trump in Louisiana in both 2016 and 2020.
Canizaro said he thought the president had lost credibility “because of the most recent actions,” but added that, with his huge national following, “The party needs Trump, and Trump needs the party.”
Bollinger said Trump did some “silly things” but wondered whether some leftist radicals had infiltrated the Trump crowd at the Capitol and carried out mayhem as a way of tarnishing the president.
“I’m very suspicious about the people who were so rambunctious,” Bollinger said. “If you look at all the Trump rallies, you’ve never seen that before. It’s odd.”
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley is under sharp attack in Missouri for leading the effort to deny Biden his victory, even after Wednesday’s insurrection. No similar movement has arisen against Kennedy and the four others.
Neither Canizaro nor Bollinger had anything critical to say about the votes of the five or about Cassidy either.
“They both did what they think is right,” Bollinger said in words echoed by Canizaro.
Pollster John Couvillon said he expects Republicans to suffer at least a partial short-term loss in popularity, similar to what happened following the Watergate scandal in 1974.
Another pollster, Ron Faucheux, said he expects the events in Washington will ensure that each of the Republicans faces a Democratic candidate in two years.
“Whether any of them will lose because of it is another question,” said Faucheux. “The state is a pro-Trump state.”
But, he added, “it was a particularly bad vote to cast. It was predicated on a lie, that the presidential result could be overturned, when in fact it couldn’t. I think it was a mistake for anybody to have voted for this, not only in terms of a constitutional mandate but also in terms of politics.”
That Louisiana’s Republican congressmen won’t acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory — even after the Electoral College voted decisively last week — …
Bob Mann is a historian, a professor at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and a former aide to Democratic lawmakers. In his view, the votes by Kennedy and the four members of Congress against the electors amounted to “trying to disenfranchise the votes of millions of voters in other states.”
In saying that, Mann was reminded of numerous conversations he had with Russell Long, while writing the late senator’s authorized biography, about his votes during the 1950s and 1960s to deny civil rights to Black people.
After Long’s Senate career was over, Mann said, “He admitted that he was wrong. It was a part of his record he had to live with.”
Mann then referred to Kennedy, Graves and the others.
“Some day, they’re going to have grandchildren who ask them what they did during the Trump days,” Mann said. “I’m guessing that’s going to be a difficult conversation. It won’t be like the World War II soldiers talking about fighting on the beaches of Normandy.”
Andrea Gallo contributed to this article.