When Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy voted to convict former President Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the Louisiana GOP unanimously voted to censure him.
Blake Miguez, chair of the Republican Caucus in Louisiana, tweeted that Cassidy had lost most people who voted to re-elect him because of his decision. Another Louisiana GOP official called Cassidy a “senator without a party,” in an interview with The Advocate.
Cassidy joined six other Senate Republicans who crossed party lines and voted to convict Trump.
Meanwhile, Louisiana’s other U.S. Senator, John Kennedy, voted to acquit the former president, calling the impeachment trial “political sport,” and “unconstitutional.”
Cassidy, who voted with Trump 89% of the time, according to the Advocate, refused to back down from his decision and said he believes more people will agree with him as more information comes out about the attack. He said that he may already represent what most Louisianans believe about Trump’s role in the attack on the Capitol, in an interview on ABC.
The inter-party debate between anti-Trump Republicans and those who have stayed loyal to the former president highlights a divided GOP after Trump, both nationally and in Louisiana.
History junior Ben Smith, LSU College Republican’s new president, said the Jan. 6 insurrection was a wake-up call for some Republicans.
“We weren’t fully on board with a lot of [Trump’s] rhetoric, but there were policy things that we liked,” he said. “I think a lot of us told ourselves that rhetoric’s rhetoric—as long as we’re getting good policy out of it then it is what it is. Then, January 6th showed actually rhetoric does matter.”
Now, with President Biden in office, Smith said he wants to see the GOP form more substantive solutions to issues the country faces.
“I think that the message our party is pushing right now is very incoherent,” he said. “It has different factions and different groups saying different things.”
Smith pointed out that the Left has had its moderate-progressive ideological divide for some time now, while the right remained relatively unified throughout Obama’s presidency.
“Now, both sides have this very specific ideological fragmentation,” he said.
Political science professor and faculty sponsor for College Republicans James Garand said inter-party debate on the Left between moderates and progressives seems to be more ideological, while it’s more stylistic and rhetorical on the Right.
“There are some policy elements to it,” he said. “You’ve got some people who are very dedicated to Donald Trump and you’ve got others who stick to principles related to free-market conservatism. Those principles didn’t always agree with what President Trump wanted to see.”
Smith recommended embracing the middle-ground, focusing on issues most, if not all, Republicans can get behind, such as helping the working class, ensuring fairness for Americans, especially those who have been marginalized and oppressed, combating the use and exploitation of Americans’ private data by tech companies and combating the rise of China's disregard for human rights.
As for College Republicans at LSU, Smith is taking over at a pivotal moment. The organization hasn’t been active on campus for a year and a half, and the political atmosphere they’re entering this semester is much different than when they were last active.
“We’re coming back in a totally different era,” Smith said. “Last time we were active, it was a different world. That offers its challenges but also opportunities.”
Politics is not new for Smith, however.
He took a gap year in 2020 to work as the LAGOP’s legislative director from January to March and then communications and political director until October. At the age of 20, he was one of the youngest senior staffers working in Louisiana politics at that time.
He has also worked on three political campaigns, including Bill Cassidy’s in 2014, John Fleming’s in 2016 and Scott McKnight’s in 2019.
Smith was president of College Republicans in 2019, meaning 2021 will be his second term, one he said he’s more prepared for.
“We’re not just going to be a group that stands in Free Speech Alley and hands out buttons and posters and koozies,” he said. “We’re going to be a group that’s working in the community, working in the legislature, working on campaigns and working with other LSU students to advance policies and ideas that are going to tangibly improve the lives of other people.”
Smith said College Republicans are in a rebuilding phase and that the organization will undergo a rebrand this semester.
“We’re going to be more focused on providing that positive vision, an optimistic argument for conservatism--not engaging in petty squabbles, the more charged negative rhetoric but instead engaging in a much more positive dialogue that is collaborative and wants to get things done,” Smith said. “We have to make sure it’s an organization that’s filled with people who actually want to do positive things rather than just sit around and complain.”
Smith said the goal of the organization has not changed, however.
“It is promoting the ideals and values of the Republican Party on campus, getting Republicans elected at all levels of office, local Republicans [and] state Republicans,” he said.
The organization’s first major project this semester will be the Carter Initiative--renaming LSU’s tennis court after former state Rep. Steve Carter, who died from COVID-19 in January.
Carter coached tennis at LSU for over 20 years and was assistant athletic director for some time.
“We think it will be a great way to memorialize him,” Smith said. “We think he’s a great role model for pretty much all Louisiana students for his tremendous focus on early childhood education and his dedication to the students of this state and his fight to improve their lives--that mission is informing our mission. How can we today improve the lives of people here?”
Garand said there are much more similarities between more mainstream conservatives and pro-Trump conservatives than there are differences. He hopes Smith and the rest of the organization can work to bridge that gap.
“I have hopes that Ben and other members of the College Republicans can have a more unifying influence,” Garand said. “I think Ben is going to work hard to unify the Republican group on campus, but time will tell if that will be possible.”