JBE, Mitch & The Donald

This story was originally published in LaPolitics Weekly on May 18, 2018. Wish you had read it then? Become a part of our elite community by subscribing today!

Not quite the three amigos, their political fates

could be linked (in small but notable ways)

Gov. John Bel Edwards is talking up his access to President Donald Trump. At the same time, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is emerging as an anti-Trump voice on the national scene, while mounting what many view as an upstart bid for president. Matching Landrieu’s trajectory, meanwhile, is Edwards, who’s becoming a favorite among national Democrats for entirely different reasons.

How does each storyline influence the others? Let’s take a look…

JBE & DJT

Earlier this month President Donald Trump invited Gov. John Bel Edwards to a White House trophy ceremony to be with the winner of last year’s big Army-Navy game. The governor, however, was unable to be with his West Point football team because he had recently returned from a State Dinner at the White House, in late April, and went straight into a legislative session.

Though he couldn't attend, Edwards did make sure that people knew about Trump’s invite, or rather Trump’s second invite. Several people who made it the recent Donkey Romp, the annual fundraiser for the House Democratic Caucus, recalled hearing the story personally from the governor.

While “there’s nothing else planned right now" regarding another JBE-DJT playdate, according to his staff, the governor did have a conference call regarding federal criminal justice reform on April 30 with the president's senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as other White House officials and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.

This unlikely relationship has been blossoming for quite some time. The governor previously met with Kushner in November and before that Trump invited Edwards to the White House Infrastructure Roundtable earlier this year. Edwards was also one of only two Democrats asked to sit at the president’s table in February 2017 for the National Governors Association’s annual meeting at the White House. Needless to say, the two administrations have likewise worked together on disaster recovery efforts.

“The governor been willing to provide constructive input to the president,” said Richard Carbo, the governor’s deputy chief of staff. “It’s not necessarily that they agree on everything, but the governor and our congressional delegation are willing to work with him and not just be adversarial.”

The friendly interactions between Edwards and Trump are an outlier, especially considering the hyper-partisan atmosphere of national politics. Yet Edwards stands to possibly benefit politically, particularly in his 2019 re-election efforts. But it’s a long shot, with the best case scenario producing a GOP president who’ll sit on the sidelines, rather than supporting a GOP challenger. For now, it’s still a red-state win (by association) for a true blue governor.

MJL & JBE

Having just one Louisiana politician moving up the national ladder of influence while selling himself as a southern Democrat is notable. Having two is practically unheard of, at least in modern times. But that’s the case with former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Gov. John Bel Edwards.

It’s no secret that Landrieu and Edwards have a rocky past, dating back to the 2015 election cycle when Edwards ran for governor and Landrieu flirted with the idea, before second guessing the viability of Edwards’ candidacy and walking (not sprinting) to get behind the lone Democratic contender. But since then the men, at the very least, go along to get along, and they rarely make joint appearances as the state’s best known Dems. If you’re looking for a blood feud pitting the men against each other, you’ll be disappointed upon further inspection.

Landrieu is viewed by many as a template for a future presidential bid, speculation that kicked into overdrive when the former mayor gained notoriety for taking on the Confederate monuments question. Landrieu is also still making the talk show rounds for his book, In the Shadow of Statues, where he’s more than willing to discuss his strides as a southern Democrat — but he speaks about other southern Democrats less, particularly those from Louisiana, like the governor.

Edwards, on the other hand, is being propped up by national Democrats as an example of how a centrist, pro-life, pro-gun model can be successful in a red state. As such, some in the party are hoping the governor’s story provides a blueprint for navigating Republican strongholds — and the minds behind Edwards’ 2015 campaign are constantly being contacted by candidates and campaigns from across the country looking for the secret recipe. Edwards has even been the featured speaker at party functions in Arkansas and West Virginia, two red states where Democrats are looking to regain a foothold. He’s also a favorite of the Democratic Governors Association.

While they both are prominent Democrats in the South, it appears unlikely that their political paths collide on a national stage, as Landrieu appears to be tooling his message to appeal to the party’s liberal wing, while Edwards is keeping to his more conservative roots. Potential conflicts, although unlikely, could play out on the talent and surrogate side of things, especially if both Landrieu and Edwards both seek counsel and assistance from the same high-profile personalities, like James Carville, Donna Brazile and Walter Isaacson. For now, though, they’re independent planets with friendly relations.

DJT & MJL

While Gov. John Bel Edwards has been declining invitations from President Donald Trump due to scheduling conflicts, former Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been turning them down to make a political statement.

Landrieu, as former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, skipped meetings with Trump at the White House earlier this year in protest of the administration’s policies. (In 2016, Landrieu was a prominent surrogate for Hillary Clinton, and political insiders speculated he was in line for a fancy Beltway gig.)

If Landrieu is serious about running for president, then he may need someone to run against. Trump is the perfect target, at which the former mayor is increasingly taking aim. In his new book, Landrieu compares Trump’s tactics to David Duke’s Louisiana campaigns. One chapter is actually entitled, "David Duke and Donald Trump, a Nightmare Loop."

In his appearances on the media circuit, Landrieu has also not shied away from attacking Trump for his policy positions, especially juxtaposing his actions to remove Confederate statutes with the president’s defense of protestors in Charlottesville.

While Edwards stands to benefit from a close working relationship with the White House, it probably behooves Landrieu to keep his distance. With his pursuit of the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party, any friendly relationship with Trump could be seen as toxic by his most hardcore supporters. And simply not fitting of a Landrieu.

This story was originally published in LaPolitics Weekly on May 18, 2018. Wish you had read it then? Become a part of our elite community by subscribing today!

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