The Washington Post
For the second time in his presidency, President Donald Trump is threatening to buck the National Rifle Association on gun control. The first time - after Parkland - he talked tough and did nothing to back it up. And most everyone thinks that’s likely to happen again.
But the great irony of Trump’s presidency is this: He is perhaps the one recent president who actually could get it done and break the gridlock on an intractable issue if - and emphasis on if - he wanted to.
The Washington Post reports that Trump’s expressed openness to extensive and “strong” new background checks on gun purchases earned him a call from NRA executive Wayne LaPierre this week:
“... LaPierre spoke with Trump on Tuesday after the president expressed support for a background check bill and told him it would not be popular among Trump’s supporters, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal talks. LaPierre also argued against the bill’s merits, the officials said.
“The NRA, which opposes the legislation sponsored by Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., declined to comment.”
Everyone should be skeptical Trump will lift a finger on gun control. He made no mention of it in his 10-minute address to the nation on Monday, and he even emphasized that, “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger - not the gun.”
He also has a tendency to float ideas that he never follows through on. And then there is the matter of his base, which Trump has catered to almost incessantly during his presidency. LaPierre rightly noted it might be alienated by Trump supporting increased gun control. Why would Trump suddenly take that risk after spending four years cultivating a devoted following on the right?
With those caveats established, he could hypothetically do it - and probably even succeed at doing it. That same credibility with the base gives him political capital to spend. He’s shown he can bend the party to his will on issues like the size of government and free trade. I’ve made a similar argument about comprehensive immigration reform and other issues. George W. Bush couldn’t bring his party along with him on immigration, but it’s not difficult to see enough Republicans, many of whom’s support is less about the details and more about the man and his ethos, lining up behind Trump.
Trump told Republicans after Parkland that they were “petrified” of the NRA but that he was less accountable to the potent lobbying organization. “They have great power over you people,” he said on Feb. 28. “They have less power over me.” While there was some truth to that back then, there might be even more now. The NRA is currently riven by infighting and increasing questions about its use of funding - including looking to buy a $6 million mansion for LaPierre.
If Trump were to support some kind of background checks bill, the NRA would have to decide how much of a showdown it wanted. The NRA has a devoted following, but so does Trump. Going at Trump would risk forcing people to choose - and possibly being an embarrassing loss for the NRA, especially since the vast majority of Americans support tougher background checks, at an inopportune time. It would also risk damaging Trump’s 2020 re-election chances.
Is the NRA really going to pick that fight, in its current state? Maybe it will decide it has to, given what’s at stake (it believes basically any additional gun control is a slippery slope). But it’s hardly a fight it’s guaranteed to win. Trump could take on the NRA and win, possibly without even much of a fight.
If you’re a congressional Republican, you’re biding your time right now. Trump has proven himself to be nothing if not an untrustworthy partner when it comes to legislating. Nobody wants to go out on a limb for some kind of gun control and then see Trump back away from the fight. Trump will have to prove he’s devoted to the cause before the support will materialize on the right.
It’s probably unlikely he’ll ever do it. But if the time were ever ripe for movement on this issue, given the confluence of circumstances, now might be it.