Trump in Lake Charles

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are greeted by Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana first lady Donna Edwards after exiting Air Force One at Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017.

Who is the most popular governor at the White House, at least with a D behind his name? Maybe the case can be made that it's John Bel Edwards.

The governor's latest trip is to confer — again — with President Donald Trump and other White House officials on prison reform, a particular cause for presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.

For a governor like Edwards, whose white voters approved overwhelmingly of Trump in the 2016 election, the political implications of this policy discussion are welcome on several levels. It associates him more firmly with a bipartisan issue, backed by often-Republican evangelical churches, also proponents of prison reform.

And it is a none-too-subtle rebuff of harsh criticisms of the prison reforms issued by GOP officials said to be considering a run against the governor next year. These include Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy.

With an incredibly valuable push from the GOP-led delegation in Congress, Louisiana received more important federal aid this year for those hit so hard in the 2016 flooding. And there have been other benefits for Edwards' administration of the governor's attentiveness to the president.

Is there a downside to this political bonanza? Probably not, but such a political maneuver is called triangulation, positioning the governor as the moderate between opposing viewpoints. One of the most brilliant political operators of the last century, Bill Clinton, triangulated between Republicans and Democrats on issues like welfare reform.

It angered some liberals, but in a presidential election, where else do they have to go?

For Edwards, the sole Democrat in statewide office, during the Age of Trump, triangulation is being carried to lengths beyond those of Clinton. Edwards has backed the most restrictive law on abortion in the land; he draws regular criticism on his support of the Bayou Bridge pipeline; African-Americans in St. James Parish are restive about "their governor" who takes the side of the big energy companies.

Less obviously, he has regularly compromised with groups, such as sheriffs and district attorneys, who were uncomfortable with the prison reforms. Some provisions were watered down.

In politics, there's been much discussion of making Texas a Democratic state as its demography changes. Not happening yet, though Democrats there could perhaps win today with a version of John Bel Edwards. But liberal voters in Austin, Dallas and Houston would not allow such a conservative Democrat to survive their primary process.

Here, we have an open primary, and incumbent Edwards is unlikely to face a credible Democrat on the left that would divide his vote in the primary — although, with our open primary system, there's usually a number of candidates, because the qualifying fee is too damn low.

But there is a difference in today's politics from Clinton's day: The intensity of support among base voters is considered vital. Turnout is always a difficulty in a non-presidential year. Does Edwards' triangulation endanger the intensity of his base voters?

Edwards appears today in New Orleans with two Trump officials at the welcoming luncheon of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

The group is controversial for peddling conservative nostrums to legislatures around the country. Even major national companies have begun to drop their support of the formerly more bipartisan ALEC.

"Its efforts go far beyond the basics of special interest lobbying to an attempt to control the whole process of lawmaking," says Stephen Winham, a supporter of the governor and former state official. "The governor should shun this convention at the least, or better, take a stand against ALEC as a clear threat to the democratic process."

Not much chance of that, in the age of triangulation.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

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