What both parties could learn from John Bel Edwards in Louisiana

The fiscally moderate anti-abortion Catholic Democrat won re-election in a state where Trump remains widely popular

John Bel Edwards.
(Image credit: Illustrated | AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

One of the many regrettable things about the farcical impeachment hearings that will continue this week is that, like Comeygate and Mueller Time before them, they have more or less totally monopolized the political conversation in this country. The latest victim of our anti-Trump monomania is John Bel Edwards, who won re-election as governor of Louisiana on Saturday.

Discussion of Edwards' victory is being drowned out even in his home state by other (perhaps not entirely unrelated) news. This is unfortunate. The continued success of this fiscally moderate anti-abortion Catholic Democrat offers at least two lessons for politicians in both parties, whether they are interested in hearing them or not.

The first lesson is for Democrats. On paper it is nothing short of remarkable to think that they can both win and hold statewide office in a place like Louisiana, where Donald Trump's approval rating is among the highest in the country. Edwards' opponent, Eddie Rispone, was endorsed by the president, whose record when taking sides in these contests remains excellent.

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Edwards has won the support of Trump voters in Louisiana not by triangulating on economic questions the way Democratic governors and mayors in many other states do in order to appeal to wealthy suburban voters, but by consistently defending human life and recognizing that our obligations to one another do not end the minute our mothers give birth to us. This is why in addition to signing legislation that restricted abortion he has expanded Medicaid (almost immediately cutting the number of Louisianans without health insurance in half), worked with the Hospitaller Sisters of Mercy to establish a shelter for victims of human trafficking, and asked Pope Francis for his blessing. It is also why he has made a point of insisting that he is willing to work with Trump on infrastructure and other issues. Edwards is committed to the common good, not to the temporary flourishing of his own political party.

This is why it was at least somewhat heartening to see that at the national level Democrats have not abandoned Edwards, despite the fact that his views on abortion are completely at odds with the party's stated platform. Louisiana and Nebraska are not New York or Washington state. If the Democrats really think they have something to offer working people that will improve their lives, they should not insist that social conservatives abandon their beliefs in order to enjoy them.

The second lesson is for the GOP, who, despite Rispone's defeat, control both houses of the the Louisiana state legislature, both of its U.S. Senate seats, and most of its U.S. House delegation. Here it is instructive to compare Edwards to Matt Bevin, the Republican who recently lost re-election as Kentucky's governor. Like Edwards, Bevin is considered a hero by the pro-life movement; unlike Edwards, Bevin's legacy in his home state has been defined by his opposition to the expansion of Medicaid (a position shared by Edwards' GOP predecessor in Louisiana). In both cases, a Trump-endorsed Republican lost to a Democrat in an otherwise more or less solidly red state.

I, for one, find Republican intransigence on health care and other economic issues even more baffling than I do things like the agony over Bernie Sanders' willingness to campaign with Heath Mellon, an anti-abortion candidate for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, that bastion of progressive socialism. When Democrats insist that unlimited state-subsidized abortion on demand is a central tenet of their party, they are deferring to the opinion of their most enthusiastic supporters — namely, woke CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Meanwhile, a map of the country showing Trump's share of the popular vote in 2016 would show you some of the poorest counties in the United States.

This is not to suggest that Edwards is a totally unique figure in our politics. His re-election victory should be discussed in the context of recent remarks by Sen. Marco Rubio calling on his fellow conservatives to abandon libertarian economics in favor of the common good. What Rubio and his Senate colleague Josh Hawley of Missouri both appear to believe is that there is a vast and mostly unclaimed territory in American politics that could be the preserve of politicians who are socially conservative and economically moderate to progressive. Edwards' success at the ballot box shows us that their intuition is correct. Whether his party or theirs is willing to claim this territory is a different question entirely.

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