ANALYSIS — Donald Trump had a very special announcement for supporters Wednesday night in Monroe, Louisiana. It was one that shows the extent to which the president is taking ownership of — and rolling the dice on — the tight race for the governor’s mansion there.
“By the way, this Saturday … I’m going to be at a certain game,” a smiling Trump said. “Let’s see, it’s LSU versus a pretty good team from Alabama. … I’m a football fan, I hear you have a great quarterback. We’re going to see him,” he said of Joe Burrow, the star QB of the No. 2 Tigers. “But I’m actually going to the game. I said: That’s the game I want to go to.
“So that’ll be … tremendous. Two great teams, two great teams that I look forward to,” Trump said to cheers from the overwhelmingly pro-LSU crowd who booed each time the No. 3 Crimson Tide was mentioned.
College football analysts agree with Trump that it should be a “tremendous” contest, as the Tigers take their new-look, high-octane offense up against Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s defense. But the president isn’t going just to watch two of college football’s best teams battle it out for a chance to play for the Southeastern Conference crown — and a possible spot in the College Football Playoff.
For him, the stakes are much higher. Here are three takeaways from Trump’s rather mundane Monroe rally.
After talking up the LSU-’Bama game, the next words out of his mouth were this: “So, I came to get you for early voting for Eddie Rispone.”
Rispone is a businessman who is the GOP nominee for governor, locked in a tight race following the state’s jungle primary against incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. The two, polls suggest, are in a dead heat. One recent poll showed Edwards up by four percentage points, while another found them tied.
Wednesday night’s rally was Trump’s second in less than a month for Rispone. Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa might put him in neighboring Alabama, but thousands of LSU fans will be in attendance, with many more glued to their televisions. What’s more, Trump announced onstage Wednesday that he will make yet another foray into the Rispone-Edwards race, with a Nov. 14 rally in Bossier City, Louisiana, two days before the election.
In short, the president is risking some political capital here. Especially after his efforts, including a Monday night rally in Lexington, to support Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin’s reelection bid. (The Associated Press has yet to declare a winner in Bevin’s race against Democratic state Attorney General Andy Beshear. Bevin has yet to concede defeat.)
‘Happy with crappy’
The president was the clear headliner in Monroe, but, for once, others rose to the occasion — as GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky did Monday night in calling for the media to report the intelligence community whistleblower’s name — and shared the spotlight with the usually dominant Trump.
One was John Kennedy, the always-quotable Republican senator who retained his East Baton Rouge Parish accent and folksiness despite graduating from both the University of Virginia Law School and the University of Oxford.
“Gov. Edwards is giving us decline and uncertainty. Now, unless … you’re happy with crappy, I want your vote for Eddie Rispone for governor,” Kennedy said.
Another was the man of the hour, Rispone.
“Someone like Trump, that’s what we need. And we want to thank the president for coming here and exposing John Bel Edwards … as the liberal as he is. Thank you,” he said as Trump clapped and nodded. “John Bel Edwards would want you to believe he’s not one of those liberal lunatics that are following and trying to impeach our president. We can send a message to them by voting me in and voting and supporting our President Donald Trump.
“We don’t deserve to be last,” he told them, referring to the state’s rankings near the bottom of all 50 states and commonwealths in many categories, such as education, health care, economic opportunity and crime. “We’re last.” (U.S. News & World Report, using a metric that measured those and other categories, ranked Louisiana the 50th best state, meaning the worst.)
But after delivering that upbeat message, Rispone told the audience he had to take “one more liberty,” and he went right for their college football-obsessed hearts, with a Cajun twist: “Geaux Tigers!”
The president did not stop to take questions from reporters as he left the White House for Monroe late Wednesday afternoon. He also did not trot out any new rally material once he got there.
In fact, he has been on something of a loop for a few weeks — and doing noticeably fewer impromptu gaggles with reporters. (He will have a chance to take questions on the impeachment inquiry and Bevin’s apparent loss at 2:15 p.m. Thursday, when the day’s press pool is scheduled to visit the Oval Office for an event.)
“America is winning again and America is respected again,” he said, in an example of an often-used line. “But while we are delivering safety and prosperity for Americans, the radical left Democrats are trying to rip our nation apart.”
That was about as animated the often-animated rally MC got all night. But the crowd, many wearing his “Make America Great Again” gear, barely responded.