The Louisiana Republican Party is like a country club that lets in too many members.
Sure, the growth was great. In politics, everybody who was anybody, almost, became a member.
But the clubby days of Tory Pines are no longer. The new members are inevitably not just the WASPy and genteel mainstays of the old party. They do not wear membership as a social obligation one is born unto. Rather, it’s an emblem of superiority that is lorded over outsiders — as the president tweets, the losers.
In the dining room, where prayers were rarely offered except over the Easter buffet, every noon meal echoes with the evangelical element seeking Jesus’ intervention against liberals as well as the ordinary vicissitudes of life. Some are even known to frown on traditions like the gin-and-tonic Tuesday afternoon.
The annual meetings, like the Legislature, are now nasty affairs when the new members balk at dues increases to repair the greens or resurface the tennis courts. Weren’t our votes enough, they say. No new taxes, the members demand, so the golfers are now in combat with the tennis players over the priorities of repairs, and the swimming pool leak is not patched by springtime; factional accusations multiply as pragmatists try to keep the old place going.
Welcome to majority status.
Since 2014, with the routing of a three-term incumbent U.S. senator, moderate Democrat Mary Landrieu, the GOP has been in the ascendant. All statewide offices except one, every seat in Congress except one. Majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
Yet with growth have come divisions that have manifested themselves anew this year. The official party is just one faction, a state central committee of elected members from around the state, that is firmly in the more conservative camp. There is a club of hard-right activists that is just as inbred as the old country-club crowd was. Outside groups like Americans for Prosperity seek to enforce an ideological purity as does the Louisiana Family Forum, focused (mostly) on social issues.
Legislators who voted for taxes, even as the state budget was careening on the point of collapse, are stigmatized on social media as traitors to the cause of beating Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat.
But the fact that Edwards is in office also represents the dilemma of enforcing ideological purity in a broader party. Republican legislators, conservative and business-oriented on most issues, are also divided between those with experience in office, who are typically more pragmatic, as in the Senate, and the harder-line crowd — typically, the latter in the state House.
Of course, this has happened before. Just as the GOP hardliners wanted to censure Republicans who crossed party lines to back Edwards in 2015, Democrats once censured their officeholders who backed Republican candidate David C. Treen in 1979, to as little effect.
Faction was as true of the majority Democrats when the GOP was tiny: The segregationist Willie Rainach Democrats differed from the moderate John McKeithen administration, also different from the Gillis Long Democrats. The white voters in Acadiana and elsewhere who boosted Edwin Edwards into the governorship are now Republican-leaning, but they may also be schoolteachers and others who see the virtue in state spending, or nurses and doctors who like Medicaid expansion — both things that the “official” GOP are against.
Will the swimming pool be patched by Easter? Praying over it probably won’t work.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.