The outcries from Louisiana Republican leaders calling for Rep. Vance McAllister to resign after he was caught on video kissing a married woman stand in sharp contrast to the muted GOP response seven years ago during Sen. David Vitter’s prostitution scandal.
Some say the response represents a Republican double-standard. It’s also likely rooted in McAllister’s outsider status within the Louisiana GOP establishment.
State Republican Party chairman Roger Villere and Gov. Bobby Jindal have called on McAllister to resign. Villere won’t explain why he feels differently about McAllister’s sex scandal than Vitter’s, and Jindal won’t answer questions about whether Vitter should have resigned.
The renewed attention comes at an especially bad time for Vitter, who has launched a campaign for governor and had hoped to leave his own scandal behind. Already Rep. John Bel Edwards, one of Vitter’s competitors in the 2015 governor’s race, has seized on the link between the two scandals.
“While I am as disappointed as anyone to see Louisiana embarrassed, yet again, by an elected official who professes family values in public but practices something else entirely in private, I can’t help but ask why Sen. Vitter is not held to the same standard as Congressman McAllister,” Edwards, a Democrat, said in a statement Friday.
He added: “When Sen. Vitter was caught in a prostitution scandal these same people rushed to his defense. Am I missing something here?”
Married and the father of five children, McAllister has not been seen in public since the video of him kissing the now-former staffer surfaced. His office vowed that the congressman intended to stay in office “as of now.” Questions about whether he would stand for re-election in November have been dodged.
Jindal has called the congressman’s behavior an embarrassment. Villere accused McAllister of “extreme hypocrisy” in a blistering statement that said “a breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by an immediate resignation.”
After Vitter admitted to a “serious sin” when phone records linked him to Washington’s “D.C. Madam” prostitution case in 2007, Villere wasn’t nearly so severe. He told The Times-Picayune at the time, “I think if nothing else comes out, and this is all there is, then three weeks from now, this will all be behind” Vitter.
Villere backed Vitter for his re-election three years later.
Vitter has never commented on whether he broke the law, instead saying his family had forgiven him and moved past it.
Jindal was a congressman when the Vitter’s scandal erupted and was running for governor. His office ignored questions about whether the Republican governor thinks Vitter should have resigned.
The difference could come down to politics.
A freshman congressman, McAllister was a political newcomer who stunned Republican Party leaders by trouncing state Sen. Neil Riser, a Jindal ally backed by the GOP establishment, in the November 2013 special election to fill the vacant seat.
McAllister largely self-financed his election bid and touted his outsider status — and his family and Christian beliefs — during his campaign. His positions were to the left of the staunchly conservative Riser and his backing of Medicaid expansion for Louisiana was at odds with the GOP, Jindal and Villere.
“I don’t think Republicans see him as one of their own” and so it’s easier to sacrifice him, said Pearson Cross, head of the Department of Politics, Law and International Relations at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Vitter also had a record that showed the GOP they had a reliable vote, while McAllister hasn’t built up such a resume. And if McAllister resigns or doesn’t run for re-election, the seat is expected to safely stay in Republican hands with whomever else might run.
“The Republican Party doesn’t face the same penalties for expressing its moral outrage in this particular case,” Cross said.
For his part, Vitter has not joined the chorus of calls for McAllister to step down.
Asked if the senator agreed with Villere’s push for a resignation, his office repeated a previous statement in which Vitter said his “sole focus and reaction is about the McAllister family and the other family directly involved.”
“My thoughts and prayers go out to them, and I wish them real and deep comfort and healing,” Vitter said in the statement.