The Louisiana Republican Party my father helped build has become an embarrassing spectacle of purity tests and personality cults. Its executive committee’s unanimous vote to censure U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy is a rejection of conscience and moderation in favor of a Politburo-like insistence on mindless orthodoxy.
This putatively conservative “cancel culture” is no less objectionable than the liberal version sweeping college campuses and newsrooms coast to coast.
The executive committee formally censured Cassidy for daring to vote that President Donald Trump was guilty of an impeachable offense for Trump’s actions before and during the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot. This small executive committee is the governing elite of the same State Central Committee that 31 years ago overwhelmingly refused to censure neo-Nazi David Duke. The irony is sickening.
There can be absolutely no doubt that Trump played with fire in hosting his rally and using martial language, and then was derelict in his duty by doing nothing to stop the Capitol assault once it started. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Trump’s actions were impeachable, or whether a post-presidency trial is constitutional — but nobody can seriously argue that Trump’s behavior wasn’t dangerously reckless.
The keyword above is “reasonable.” In the United States, a party exists to elect people of generally like minds to enact legislation in broad accord with its principles. Until lately, the very idea of a party issuing a major, formal rebuke about a matter of reasonable disagreement would have been unthinkable. “Censure” historically has been a major denunciation by an organization of one of its own, usually involving a significant ethical breach or outlandishly inappropriate behavior. It is much more serious than a disagreement or a mere expression of disapproval.
Censure certainly has never been merited for a legislator’s vote of conscience, well-considered and explained. Yet that’s what the executive committee did to Cassidy.
The executive committee is the same body on which my father, Haywood Hillyer III, served three decades ago. Thirty years before that, when Dad actively joined the Republican Party in 1960, there were fewer than 10,000 registered members of the GOP in the entire state of Louisiana. Dad traveled to William F. Buckley’s Great Elm in Sharon, Connecticut, in 1960 to help found the national conservative Young Americans for Freedom group, then came home to build a state party that would support conservative principles. He sat on the floor of young congressional candidate Dave Treen’s house in 1962 with precinct maps in front of him, helping Treen figure how to run a campaign in a party with almost no adherents.
Dad spent four years on the Orleans Republican Parish Executive Committee and 25 years on the party’s State Central Committee, culminating in 4½ years as Louisiana’s Republican national committeeman. He believed in limiting the central government except for support of a strong defense, and he devoted thousands of hours of “scut work” to helping reinvigorate the moribund corpus of a dead-weight organization. Always pushing for a conservative, Goldwaterite-Reaganite bent to the party, he nonetheless would have recoiled at any attempt to impose an ideological straitjacket or a litmus test requiring devotion to one man.
As the national committeeman, Dad was on the eight-person executive committee. In 1989, the larger (about 150-member) State Central Committee voted overwhelmingly not to censure Duke. Dad believed the SCC should at least have passed a simple resolution distancing itself from Duke’s hateful history and associations. Ignominiously, the SCC didn’t do it. So, Dad drafted a strongly worded resolution against Duke and for standards of decency and humane outreach, and eventually secured a unanimous vote of the executive committee in favor. By then, though, the media had moved on, and it went unnoticed.
The larger point remains: Dad spent more than three decades building, from next to nothing, a party that would include all allies of goodwill. Even then, that party, in cowardly fashion, refused at a key moment to censure a neo-Nazi. Now that same party, in Jacobin fashion, censures a U.S. Senator for a single vote amid the senator’s long record of solidly conservative, diligent representation of Louisiana, when that vote was to rebuke a president clearly derelict in his duty. My dad would weep.
Quin Hillyer is senior commentary writer and editor for the Washington Examiner, and a former state president of the Louisiana Young Republicans organization.