Left: Jeff Landry as a high school senior in 1988. Source: St. Martinville Senior High School, 1988 Yearbook, Ancestry.com. Right: Landry with Trump in Bossier City, LA, Oct. 2019. Image credit: Lamar White, Jr. | Bayou Brief

I.

MAKE CHRISTMAS GREAT AGAIN™

(Louisiana voters) don’t want good government; they want good entertainment.”
— Earl K. Long

ONE

HELLO, HELLO, HELLO, HOW LOW?

Two weeks after Donald Trump stunned the world and captured the White House by carving out an Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton, the attorney general of Louisiana— Jeff Landry— called a lawyer at the Lafayette office of the Big Law firm Jones Walker. He had an idea.

Landry had been an enthusiastic supporter of the new president-elect from the very earliest days of the campaign, back when most members of the political class had believed Trump would prove too inflammatory to ever be taken seriously as a candidate. He also knew Christl Mahfouz, the owner of Ace Specialties in Lafayette.

Mahfouz had flown up to New York to pitch The Donald of Trump Tower on a business proposal, and she returned to Lafayette with a contract that made her company the country’s one and only official distributor of Trump campaign gear. That meant every single official “Make America Great Again” red baseball cap had, at some point, been shipped out of her warehouse in South Louisiana.

Business was booming.

On the campaign trail, Trump often gloated about how smart he was not just for coining the phrase “Make America Great Again,” but for trademarking it as well. (Never mind that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had used the slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again” in 1980).

“I said, ‘That is so good.’ I wrote it down,” Trump later recalled to the Washington Post. “I went to my lawyers. I have a lot of lawyers in-house. We have many lawyers. I have got guys that handle this stuff. I said, ‘See if you can have this registered and trademarked.’”

With the holiday season only days away, Landry’s idea was simple. Heck, it was obvious. He wanted to sell “Make Christmas Great Again” gear. Baseball caps, of course, but also t-shirts, sweaters, socks, swimwear, and children’s clothing, including onesies for infants. But for the venture to be profitable, he knew he’d need to apply for a trademark, which happened to be something Robert Waddell of Jones Walker had done before. Among other things, Waddell successfully secured a trademark for the “adult entertainment store” LoveWorks.

The United States Trademark and Patent Office received an application from Waddell, filed on behalf of J.M. Landry and Associates, Landry’s consulting company, on Nov. 21, 2016, along with a check for the $325 fee. Right away, though, Leigh Case, the lawyer assigned to review the application, found a potential snag for Landry.

As it turns out, Landry’s idea was so simple and so obvious that someone else had already thought of it. On Nov. 16, only five days before, Mark Cain, a real estate agent from Scottsdale, Arizona, had filed a trademark application for “Make Christmas Great Again,” specifically for “Make Christmas Great Again” stocking caps. “My wife and I were very early supporters of Donald Trump during his first campaign,” he told me. “We thought this would be an excellent way to frame the topic (making Christmas great again) as a means to launch a line of Christmas products… (both as a) personal investment and as a fundraising initiative for nonprofit work.”

But the application timeline made it practically impossible to for Cain to launch a product line during Trump’s first year in office. “Entering year two, the Trump administration was unstable,” he said, “and we forecast that our worst case scenario was two or three seasons of possible profit with considerable capital risk. We abandoned the idea, never thinking there was a competitive market for the ‘Make Christmas Great Again’ mark.” As Cain learned, the approval process can be a long and windy road, and it’s sometimes impossible to strike while the iron is hot.

It’s likely you’ve never heard about Landry’s attempt to launch a line of Trump-inspired, Christmas-themed clothing. As far as I can tell, I was the only person to report on his trademark application, back in April of 2017, though, at the time, I incorrectly assumed that the trademark had been granted. It hadn’t.

Eventually, on May 1, 2018, the USPTO published a notice in the Trademark Official Gazette, providing anyone who opposed Landry’s trademark application with 30 days to file a written response. It caught the attention of Guy Blabash of TeeStars, a Philadelphia-based novelty t-shirt company. He filed an objection, arguing that “Make Christmas Great Again” had already been in use prior to 2016 and that, in any event, it was now a part of the vernacular. He knew how the system worked. A year before, someone had opposed his application to trademark the phrase “Drink Up, Bitches.” Blabash won.

Ultimately, after nearly two years of delays, on Aug. 5, 2018, Landry was granted a Request for Express Abandonment with the Commissioner of Trademarks. In other words, he withdrew the application.

While Jeff Landry awaited was still awaiting approval from the USPTO, the Republican National Committee began selling Christmas-themed MAGA hats.

If he hadn’t, there would have been an inter parties opposition proceeding in front of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Presumably, the attorney general of Louisiana decided to spare himself the potential embarrassment of losing to the legal genius behind the “Drink Up, Bitches” t-shirts.

It’s unclear whether Landry ever received Trump’s blessing for his Christmas clothing line, though it seems doubtful. Trump was known to be fiercely protective over the MAGA brand throughout his first campaign, even sending cease and desist letters to former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for using the phrase in speeches they gave while competing against him for the Republican nomination. And when he geared up for reelection in 2020, his campaign was frequently frustrated by those who appropriated his brand to bolster other candidates and causes.

“President Trump’s campaign condemns any organization that deceptively uses the President’s name, likeness, trademarks, or branding and confuses voters,” the Trump campaign told Politico in 2019. “There is no excuse for any group, including ones run by people who claim to be part of our ‘coalition,’ to suggest they directly support President Trump’s reelection or any other candidates. We encourage the appropriate authorities to investigate all alleged scam groups for potential illegal activities.”

Five weeks before Christmas in 2017, while Landry was still awaiting a decision by the USPTO on his trademark application, Trump and the Republican National Committee partnered on a special, limited edition campaign collectable: A new red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, embroidered with Christmas lights and available for $45 plus shipping and handling during the most wonderful time of the year.

****

Today, with more than $2 million cash-on-hand in his campaign war chest and the support of Big Oil (he believes climate change is a “hoax”) and a constellation of pro-Trump SuperPACs, Jeff Landry is already considered a leading candidate in the 2023 Louisiana governor’s race, when term limits will prevent Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards from running again.

Such speculation may seem somewhat premature, but consider that eight years ago, in February of 2013, with Bobby Jindal not even halfway through his second term, Edwards unexpectedly announced that he intended to run for governor in 2015, after being put on the spot by talk radio host Jim Engster. In other words, this is just as good of a time as any to prepare for what is certain to be a brutal campaign season.

If you are not already familiar with Jeff Landry, the fact that he spent nearly two years quietly pursuing a way to profit from Christmas and a derivative of the Trump political brand, only to abandon his million-dollar idea after getting schooled on the law by a man who sells novelty t-shirts for a living, should give you a good idea of the kind of vapid, legally dubious, opportunistic grift that has been his hallmark.

Since our launch in 2017, the Bayou Brief has featured Landry in dozens of stories; last year, I wrote about the hypocrisy of Landry’s covid denialism in The Daily Beast. Much like the former president he admires, however, Landry’s kept himself relevant, in a way no previous attorney general ever considered, by continually seeking earned media attention on hot-button issues. Most Louisianians have probably never heard of Landry’s creepy campaign against the Netflix film “Cuties,” for example, but last September, he denounced the digital content provider for featuring a film that, in his words, “supports the actions that pedophiles engage in.” It’s unclear how exactly he arrived at this conclusion, particularly considering that survivors of childhood abuse have defended the film’s merits, pillorying the far-right for its bizarre “obsession with pedophilia” and arguing that its “misplaced outrage could be protecting actual child predators.”

But Landry’s quixotic campaign against “Cuties” is much more understandable than the ways in which he used his office to promote the dangerous and delusional lie that Donald Trump had actually won the 2020 presidential election, a lie that informed and incited a violent insurrection that Landry has refused to condemn unconditionally, Then again, his tenure as the state’s attorney general was already defined by an ever-growing list of spectacular failures and manufactured outrages.

Currently, Landry’s scandale du jour involves his decision to both conceal public records related to the unpaid suspension of one of his top aides and to preemptively sue the reporter who requested the records, Andrea Gallo of The Advocate. The message being sent to the media is crystal clear: If you’re looking for potentially embarrassing information on the attorney general, your request will not only be denied, you will be punished just for asking.

No doubt, Landry has a special antipathy for The Advocate, the Pulitzer Prize-winning paper responsible for publishing, in early 2020, a blockbuster investigative report detailing a convoluted scheme in which three staffing companies associated with Landry and his brother Benjamin allegedly exploited a federal guest-worker visa program for the construction of a billion-dollar liquified natural gas plant in Cameron Parish. The allegations were first made against the Landry brothers by one of their former business partners, Marco Pesquera, a Houston-area labor broker who subsequently pleaded guilty to a separate visa fraud conspiracy, a fact the Landry brothers would have the public believe discredits everything he says about the work he did on behalf of their businesses.

“Their product was skilled Mexican labor, federally approved,” The Advocate reported. “Their profit derived from the savings the industrial contractors stood to reap by paying far less for Mexican welders than they would have had to pay Americans. Another benefit: The Mexican workers were tied to the job under H-2B visa rules, meaning they could not quit for a better deal. Pesquera pegged the group’s expected profits from the nine-month work contract at several million dollars.”

Prior to the report’s publication, Benjamin Landry recorded a slickly-produced, 10-minute-long video testimonial, claiming he and his brother, both of whom had evaded or otherwise refused to answer a list of substantive questions from the paper, were victims of “reporter harassment.” (Apparently, a reporter tried, to no avail, asking Benjamin Landry questions in person, and apparently, reporters who actually attempt to question people in real life are now considered guilty of harassment, even if all they do is knock on the person’s door).

Once the report was published, Jeff Landry brushed it aside as “fake news,” which is Trump-speak for “inconvenient facts,” while at the same time uploading a frenzied and disjointed 1,959-word rebuttal on his campaign website. Among other things, the response attempts to discredit the owner of The Advocate, John Georges, for being a rich guy who previously ran for public office, as if those facts were ever shrouded in secrecy. But more tellingly, the statement also asserts that “Jeff Landry never attempted to break any laws related to temporary foreign workers – or any workers” (emphasis added). The response still occupies a prominent spot on the front-page of Landry’s website.

A longtime friend of Landry, who asked to remain anonymous, believes that Landry’s pugilistic and rabidly partisan public persona is attributable to his three most important mentors, “three of the meanest people in Louisiana politics”: the late, former Sheriff of St. Martin Parish, Charles Fuselier; the former state Senator and two-time congressional candidate, Craig Romero (Landry managed both of Romero’s unsuccessful congressional campaigns); and former U.S. Sen. David Vitter, whose organization, the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority (now known as the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority), is currently co-chaired by Landry and U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy.

“(Landry’s) political mentoring drug him into the gutter. He signed onto this persona for political reasons,” his friend tells me. “He is comfortable politically with that 23% Throw-Me-Some-Red-Meat-Mister base.”

It’s regrettable, says the friend, who also notes that the careers of all three of Landry’s mentors ended in disgrace. “(Landry’s) mother and father raised a fine gentleman. His political mentors turned him into an animal.”

Before we turn our attention to Landry’s political ascendance and the ways with which he first asserted himself as a force to be reckoned, we first consider whether Landry actually benefits from his fealty toward former president Donald Trump and the real reason Landry and a small group of other hard-line Republican officials hope to eliminate Louisiana’s jungle primary system.

Next page: HERE WE ARE NOW, ENTERTAIN US.

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Lamar White, Jr.
Lamar writes about the people, the politics, and the magic of Louisiana. He is the founder and publisher of the Bayou Brief and a contributing writer for the Daily Beast. Lamar is best known for his investigative reporting on public corruption, racism, and civil rights. He has appeared as a guest on CNN, MSNBC, and the BBC, and he's been the subject of profiles in The Washington Post, The Advocate, and Huffington Post. Before launching the Bayou Brief, he published CenLamar, a popular blog that initially covered the drama of City Hall in his hometown of Alexandria. Lamar is a graduate of Rice University in Houston and the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Today he lives in New Orleans and is currently writing a book about the life of reputed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello.