Election 2018 Trump

President Donald Trump waves to supporters in the balcony seats at a rally Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, in Southaven, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

In 1995, when a Democratic developer in New York had delusions of grandeur about business and politics, a little-known state senator from Franklin ran for the open seat of Louisiana governor.

In that race, we reached back to Abe Lincoln, the alleged railsplitter who was, in fact, a corporate lawyer, to compare the image makeover of Mike Foster, a south Louisiana planter in a welding helmet, in Roy Fletcher’s commercials.

That extraordinary race ended with Foster narrowly edging Mary Landrieu for a runoff spot, then being elected over the spoiler candidacy of Cleo Fields. Foster won two terms and arguably changed Louisiana for the better.

If American politics is part improbable image-making, today’s makeover of the Republican Party by the former developer from New York is far deeper, Fletcher said Monday.

It is not just the pace of campaigns and social media, although at one time some preposterous charges could be dismissed as beneath a reply. “Nowadays, you don’t respond at your own peril,” Fletcher told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Donald Trump’s presidency he sees as being rooted in the 2010 activism of “tea party” Republicans across the country and in Louisiana, leading a “fascinating realignment” of the stuffy pro-business GOP. “It started in 2010 and has not now run its course.”

Those enthusiasms may run their course in eight or 10 years, “because they always do,” but Fletcher said that it's drastically remade the base of the GOP. He put it as representing a change of the underlying economic base of the party: The blue-collar goods-producing economy is in revolt against the purported knowledge economy of the future.

He recalled that in 1988, the late Baton Rouge Mayor Pat Screen held a fundraiser for a Democrat running for president, Richard Gephardt, “and his big issue was trade.”

Now, a GOP president has taken up the issue of the union-backed Democratic hopeful of 30 years ago.

“Right now, there is this energy in American politics,” Fletcher said.

That talk was before the polls closed Tuesday, but Fletcher unquestionably noted an impact on the race from its dominant personality. “The other atmospheric that has defined this election is Donald Trump,” Fletcher said. “There is no better closer in American politics.”

The president is a “message freak,” the consultant said, and like the importance of instant reply to attacks, that is an important asset in a job where the attention span is quicker and more textured reporting and analysis might not catch up with Twitter and Facebook.

Is this better or worse?

Certainly one cannot imagine Dwight Eisenhower or George H.W. Bush dashing out angry tweets at 4 a.m. from the White House.

Fletcher recommended a Pew polling study for its discussion of the new era in politics. “Anything in American society is seen through a partisan worldview lens,” he said of its conclusions.

If so, that doesn’t mean that Fletcher has lost sight of the eternal verities of politics.

When asked about the future of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in a Republican state, he said that absent a challenge from U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, a formidable potential candidate, the 2019 rule might be one from Earl K. Long, “you can’t beat somebody with nobody.” 

Frank Donze: The death at 64 of the former New Orleans reporter meant the loss of a colleague and friend of many journalists. He was one of the all-time experts in the Crescent City’s Byzantine political scene.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.