Last weekend the GOP’s State Central Committee met, with items for consideration including a vote of formal disapproval for Republican Angelle’s staying silent when Republican Sen. David Vitter made the runoff against eventual victor Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, and one for Republican Dardenne’s endorsing of Edwards. Angelle now runs for Congress while shortly after the election’s conclusion Dardenne took the top job in the Edwards Administration.
Angelle deserved no such condemnation. He gave no reason for his reticence, which clearly came from two sources even if he never publicly will admit this: his pique at voters’ rejection of him and a belief that Vitter should not have bested him but also he wanted to continue to have an elective political career. Thus, he would not endorse Vitter who in his mind he felt “unfairly” bested him (because Vitter had admitted commission of a “serious sin” believed to have been soliciting prostitution yet whose bare-knuckle style of politics kept him in power despite that embarrassing revelation), but he also would not endorse Edwards as a way to pay back an ungrateful electorate and to count coup on Vitter because to do so probably would anger his conservative base too much, leading him to forfeit any chance for him to run for Congress successfully.
Such reasoning applies now to some Republican former 2016 presidential candidates and other GOP elected officials in their passing on endorsing Donald Trump for president in this fall’s election. They see Trump as insufficiently committed to conservatism and/or temperamentally unsuited to lead wisely, but also some of them no doubt simply are miffed that he defeated them, feeling unjustly deprived of the nomination as a result. That’s all right; historically in American politics an unwritten code has permitted elites in regards to fellow partisans to say nothing about them if they can’t say anything good and continue to retain their honor.
If Angelle’s conscience believed Vitter not capable of serving adequately as governor, he should be allowed to exercise that by his lack of endorsement – and be judged by that by future voters who may regard as poor judgment Angelle’s unwillingness to help prevent the far inferior Edwards from becoming governor by endorsing a demonstrably superior candidate. Poor it may be, but not derived from dishonorable motives.
By contrast, Dardenne’s aid and comfort to inflict worse governance on Louisianans demonstrates one of two things. More charitably, one could argue that Dardenne is an honorable man whose support of Edwards shows spectacularly terrible judgment that in and of itself illustrates perfectly why he never should be governor and why he finished so far down the field. His life outside of politics has been service-oriented and exemplary and shows a man of good character, so it could be argued that hurt feelings he felt in not attaining the office he may have felt owed to him, and particularly with the abrasive Vitter acing him out of it, let his emotions get the better of him and acted as an even more sore of a loser than Angelle.
However, the other possibility relies on much darker sentiments: that he simply could not face the loss of power and privilege and acted to keep it, selling out Louisianans in the process. Why else would the only of the four major candidates in the race who explicitly identified himself as Republican in campaign materials then work against the Republican candidate in the runoff, and then take a powerful position in the Democrat’s administration with considerable boost in pay and pension? This argument does not assume Dardenne operated by inferior principles in regards to the policy preferences he thought wise for Louisiana; it assumes he valued whatever principles he had so lightly that he would toss them just to increase his power and privilege, knowing he no longer needed to articulate these as never again would he run for elective office.
More’s the pity that he never will understand that his choice did a disservice to the people of the state because of the bad policies he has supported that would not have come to fruition under Vitter, and he may even try to rationalize this by thinking he can “moderate” the very liberal Edwards with his presence, which he can convince himself benefits the state. But even if unwilling to admit or to understand his betrayal of the people’s interests on policy grounds, he clearly acted as a traitor to the GOP who supported him on the basis that he supported its policy preferences, not an agenda inimical to these and the state’s best interests.
Still, regardless of interpretation of his motive, he doesn’t merit official party punishment. A censure carries no punishment but shame, which by his actions indicates he doesn’t feel about this matter, and discourages no one in the future from doing the same. And under the benign interpretation, he would deserve punishment for, in essence, being stupid? If that were the standard, central committees would be in permanent session handing out lashings to a multitude of elected and appointed officials.
Parties don’t need to judge such matters. Voters and history will prove more than capable of meting out whatever penalty politicians in these positions deserve.