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Trump Is Still the King
At the Louisiana Republican Party's "Victory 23" meeting.
So this weekend we threw up a few options on The Bulwark Store for y’all to peruse.
Check ‘em out.
Now, let me give you a little live, on-the-ground reporting from the bayou. I went so you didn’t have to.
Lafayette—On Friday Republican activists decked out in Let’s Geaux Brandon attire filed into a sleepy conference center connected to the CAJUNDOME as two projector screens aired Right Side Broadcasting News’ archival footage of a Donald Trump rally from back in the good ol’ days. Back when their cup ranneth over with the tears of triggered libs and all was right in their world. Back before their man was indicted, weighed, photographed, arraigned and forced to surrender to the custody of Fulton County Courthouse on orders of District Attorney Fani Wills.
This was the annual gathering of the Louisiana GOP, titled “Victory 23: It’s Bigger Than All Of Us” though the vibes were less than victorious. It was just one day after the mugshot seen ‘round the world, but there were no signs that the legal troubles of their standard bearer weighed on their consciences. The congregants who made the trek to Lafayette for the sparsely attended confab had a lot of complaints—but none of them were directed at the man setting their beloved party on fire.
They were unhappy about the direction of the state, their sitting Democratic governor, and their traitorous Republican senator. But most of all they were enraged at how the Department of Justice is treating their rightful president, Donald J. Trump.
This stated bitterness was offset by another overriding theme of the day: their hope, their faith, and their desire to fight for the “soul of the nation.” to borrow a phrase. Speakers prayed for Louisiana. They prayed for humility. They prayed for rain.
But mostly they prayed for resurrection.
As the brass notes of “Fight for LSU” faded, the Leadership Institute’s Heather Sellers took the stage to scattered applause. She had come straight from the debate in Milwaukee and said to the crowd that while she knows who she thinks won the debate, she wanted to know “what y’all think.”
There’s a short pause as the crowd determined their role in this impromptu call and response. I leaned forward in my chair excited to hear what names get shouted out. Vivek? Nikki? Dee-sanctus?
A lone voice yelled TRUMP.
And then a rolling chorus echoed TRUMP. TRUMP. TRUMP.
Sellers responded, “I’d have to agree.”
[Note for anyone in future generations uncovering this political time capsule for an AI-assisted college essay: Trump did not attend the debate in question.]
And that pretty much captured the mood of the assemblage. During the afternoon I did not encounter a single item of clothing or flair representing a 2024 candidate other than Trump. There was JUSTICE FOR TRUMP gear, and MAGA hats, and Try That In A Small Town tees—but no sign of merch from any of the other presidential aspirants. It was as if there isn’t even a presidential primary happening. I suppose that’s because,in this room, there really wasn’t.
I moseyed up to a few early-20s staffers who were working the event, curious to see if maybe they had an alternative view from the blue-haired attendees and approved speakers.
“Just curious, who are you guys supporting in the primary,” I asked
The first guy replied, “well we are a Trump party.” The others nodded. “But if it wasn’t him I like Vivek.” This was the basic sentiment from every person under the age of 30 that I talked to. (One young woman was also impressed with Nikki Haley.)
But it was the caveat at the start of his answer that was the most telling. The matter-of-fact, unquestioned, quasi-religious acknowledgment of Trump. Whether directed or not, intentional or not, the people who work at the state Republican Party of Louisiana still identify themselves at some level as being on the Trump team.
And despite all the former president’s legal troubles, that’s not irrational. The latest GOP primary poll in Louisiana has Trump ahead by an Assad-like 65 points.
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In the hallway next to the concession stand I bumped into the day’s keynote speaker, former Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, a man who once acknowledged that people perceived him to be the “dumbest member of Congress.”
I asked Gohmert if he was still on the Trump Train for 2024. He was. I tried to make a practical case for why sticking with Trump might not make sense. (Aren’t you worried about all the time in court during the campaign, I asked. Might the party benefit from someone without the baggage? Hasn’t he failed a lot already? Etc.)
Gohmert was unbowed. He said that the Department of Justice is so corrupt that they would target anyone Republicans put up.
When I pointed out that Mike Pence, Bill Barr, and other top Trump officials had not been indicted or investigated, Gohmert said that was because they are doing the Biden administration’s bidding. Struggling to unbind myself from that logic puzzle, I wished him well and proceeded to get my $4.25 bottle of Aquafina. (#Bidenflation!)
You can imagine my surprise a few hours later when Gohmert talked about our exchange as part of his speech.
Gohmert’s speech was wild.
He began by relaying a message from former President Trump, who he claimed to have just spoken to recently. He took out notes from this conversation as if to refresh his memory: “Mr. Trump loves being in Louisiana,” he said. And “This is one of his favorite places in the world to come.” (Not as high of praise as it seems given that Trump doesn’t seem to ever leave his two golf clubs).
Gohmert then recalled how Trump had vented about Senator Bill Cassidy: “I was begged for an endorsement by Bill Cassidy and I gave him the endorsement,” he said. “Next thing I know he wants me to be impeached and he is telling me to drop out of the race. Seems like he outta be the one dropping out of the race.”
This was by far the most raucous applause line of the entire day
Then Gohmert riffed on our encounter.
“I was asked by a very polite person just out here moments ago, did I think Trump outta drop out?” The crowd booed.
I was asked by a very polite person out here moments ago, ya know, didn’t I think Trump should drop out . . . Let me say, be for whomever you wish but let me make sure you understand what’s really happening. . . .It will not matter who the Republican nominee for president is, the DOJ is gonna make sure that they’ve got baggage. Even if they make it up. They are going to create court requirements for whomever our nominee is. So if your one prerequisite is we need a Republican nominee without any baggage, who doesn't have to go to court that’s not gonna happen and you need to wake up and be aware of it. They’re gonna come after whoever the nominee is.
Got that, Republicans? You are chained to your Orange God King, the only president in history to have been indicted, because our Department of Justice is so corrupt that they would indict any Republican! They just haven’t gotten to any other Republican running. (Yet!)
In 2016, Trump forced the party to abandon the posture that character and religious conviction mattered in leaders, since he so obviously had neither. Now his demands include rejecting the idea that the American system of government works at all. That the rule of law exists. Or that individual choices matter.
And at this gathering, a party once committed to the Constitution, the rule-of-law, and moral principles lapped it up.
For the Louisiana GOP, it don’t matter who’s in the White House, Donald Trump is still the king.