‘LaPolitics’: Gov. Landry’s national political profile is on the rise

Gov. Jeff Landry. (Michael Johnson/The Advocate via AP, Pool)

Jeff Landry will be the keynote speaker for the Tennessee Republican Party’s 47th annual Statesmen’s Dinner—an early indicator national GOP influencers view Louisiana’s governor as a rising star.

Organizers of the Nashville event take pride in being ahead of the curve on personality and political trends at the upper reaches of American government, typically in the orbit of the race for the White House. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was last year’s invitee, before his POTUS bid started to crumble. Former Vice President Mike Pence was the speaker in 2017, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spoke in 2016 and it was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2015.

Dating further back, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina was the pick in 2013 and Mitt Romney was the speaker in 2007.

“Governor Landry kicked off the 2024 election cycle with an historic win,” the Tennessee Republican Party states in an email promoting the June 15 event at the Music City Center. “He was the first and will not be the last Republican to change his state from blue to red! Come celebrate with the Tennessee Republican Party as we march to victory in November!”

This hot piece of political news out of Tennessee arrived as Landry visited Louisiana National Guard troops stationed at the Texas-Mexico border last week. While critics often argue state executives have little to do with immigration policy, viewed by some as a solely federal issue, Landry has had little difficulty making the topic his own.

Landry is also fresh off of an election victory that resulted in him not only taking over the Governor’s Mansion, but also the Louisiana Republican Party. He then leveraged those gains to pass a tough-on-crime agenda in a special session—perfectly packaged red meat for the GOP masses.

Louisiana’s Cajun governor, with his funny accent and quick wit and relentless politics, knows he’s on a roll. Landry is relishing in the Huey P. Long comparisons as he travels to the Kentucky Derby and ships king cakes to acquaintances he makes around the country.

Those close to Landry describe him in the same way many depicted the personal political approaches of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, meaning the governor is a collector of people. Landry collects business cards, remembers tidbits about families and follows up on those initial contacts with intent and purpose—along with a bit of country warmth and a lot of pragmatism.

How did Landry get the invite to the Tennessee Statesmen’s Dinner? He has known some of the folks involved for years, through his time as a congressman and attorney general. More importantly, Landry has managed to keep their attention all of these years.

As Landry seeks to further build his brand with what could be a new constitution for Louisiana (yet another selling point on the national level), the country’s GOP bench is looking a bit thin, especially with the recent implosions of the presidential campaigns of DeSantis and Haley.

So why wouldn’t national players show interest in Landry? As such, why wouldn’t critics attempt to compare Landry with the last Louisiana Republican governor with a national profile?

For starters, Landry seems far more in step with the current conservative moment than did former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was adept as a policy wonk but less convincing as a political attack dog. “He’s far more Louisiana than Bobby is,” said consultant Roy Fletcher, who was deputy campaign director for the first presidential bid of late U.S. Sen. John McCain.

Another prominent Louisiana consultant with similar presidential campaign experience said in a backgrounder interview that once the late Rush Limbaugh name-dropped Jindal as the next Ronald Reagan, Jindal was off to the races (in other states) and his team followed suit.

While Jindal was an anti-president voice, often taking shots at Barack Obama, Landry is viewed more as a friend to a president, given his strengthening alliance with Donald Trump. Plus, the consultant added, Landry’s team has the benefit of learning from the mistakes of the Jindal campaign/administration.

Landry and the first lady consistently tell supporters and friends they have zero interest in national politics right now. But there’s nothing they can do about the external Republican forces who desperately need a new figurehead.

No one believes Landry is being fast-tracked for a presidential bid, but an opportunity like the Tennessee Statesmen’s Dinner usually means some related chatter may be in store down the line in the form of a Cabinet gig, U.S. Senate seat or an influencer position tied to fundraising prowess.

Landry, however, insists he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Except to Tennessee in June. After that, who knows?

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.