The last time a Louisiana politician eyed the big stage, there was no doubt as to what he wanted and how he planned to get it. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal barely bothered to conceal his presidential hopes, and pursued hard-right policies that were unpopular even in conservative Louisiana, but that he figured would play well among Republican primary votes nationwide. We all know how that went.
Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s emergence in the national Democratic Party’s top tier has been a more impromptu affair.
Sure, Landrieu’s also ambitious and can calculate with the best of them. Even so, the response to his drive to remove Confederate monuments from public property — and particularly to his viral speech on the day Robert E. Lee came down — seems to have caught him at least somewhat off guard. The speech focused on placing the erection of these statues in their original context in which they “purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for."
So as Landrieu is seizing frequent opportunities to speak out against President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies, he’s still filling in some pretty big pieces in his public image. One of those pieces is how he views the 2020 presidential race. Landrieu has repeatedly said that he doesn’t plan to run at this time, although he’s also said he’d never say never.
This weekend, in a lengthy and pretty interesting interview on CNN with former Obama strategist David Axelrod, he strongly hinted that he’d defer to another possible candidate. While Landrieu acknowledged that a “new, young” candidate such as French President Emmanuel Macron could emerge, he said he’s “more of a traditionalist.” His first choice, he said, would be someone with “great experience” who can “restore America’s stature from Day One.”
“I would like somebody that knows exactly what they’re doing because they’ve done that before, that can stabilize and just rebalance the country for three, four years,” he said.
When Axelrod noted that it sounded like Landrieu was describing former Vice President Biden, Landrieu responded that “I think I am.” Biden understands the working class, Landrieu added, and could “take over tomorrow.”
Landrieu dropped some other nuggets as to his thinking in the interview. He rejected demands from some in the party to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that’s carrying out Trump’s harsh border policies, sometimes in reportedly abusive ways. He compared ICE to the New Orleans Police Department, which is under a federal consent decree for past civil rights violations. Landrieu backed the consent decree and its reforms, but noted that nobody called for the police force to be abolished.
That fits with a broader theme Landrieu embraced in an NBC News story over the weekend. Weighing in on whether the party should play to the center or embrace changes that could be either more ambitious or more disruptive, depending on how you look at things, Landrieu came down squarely for moderation.
“Republicans have chosen the far-right, which means that they have ceded a good portion of the middle of the road," he said. “The Democrats, in my opinion, would make a big mistake if they decide to run a base election and just say, ‘Our base is bigger than your base.'"
Still, he gave no quarter to Trump’s deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He labeled the recent summit and news conference “collusion in motion.”
“I think that he weakened us in a way that we’ve never been weakened before, and he should be ashamed of himself for the way we handled it,” Landrieu told Axelrod. He called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to “grow some courage” and start checking the president’s power.
Perhaps the most telling bit, though, was Landrieu’s contention that despite his admiration for Biden and his long national and international resume, a mayor too could have the type of experience Landrieu’s seeking in a president.
“I don’t think there’s another job in America that prepares you to be president better than being a mayor of a major American city, because mayors are executing every day,” he said. “They are in fact CEOs.”