Do you fully appreciate the magnitude of the mistake we’re witnessing here with O’Rourke’s “take the guns” pitch? There are three things Beto and his fans would like to see by the end of this year. One, obviously, is him becoming the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Next is him conceding defeat in the presidential race but swooping into Texas with the party enthusiastically behind him for a Senate rematch, this time with John Cornyn. And if neither of those things are in the cards, there’s always the third option — some sort of meaningful gun-control reform in Congress to move the left’s agenda forward, however incrementally.
He may have screwed himself on all three last week at the debate when he warned Americans he was coming for their assault rifles. His polling hasn’t budged so he hasn’t helped himself any towards winning the nomination. An aggressive gun-confiscation plan is obviously … problematic in his home state of Texas, such that O’Rourke may now be seen by local Democrats as damaged goods. And for the past week he’s had senators on both sides of the aisle who have been trying to midwife a compromise on background checks insisting that he’s done more harm than good by spooking righties into not giving an inch on new regulations.
Now here comes the president to inform the world that, yes, Beto may have killed a gun-control bargain.
Diehard O’Rourke fans might argue that there’s actually a fourth possible good outcome from this mess, namely that the buzz over Beto’s call for a mandatory buyback program might end up pressuring the eventual Democratic nominee into being bolder on gun control next year. It’s true that polls have showed broad support within the party for the idea, but most of the presidential field has kept its distance from the plan. Pete Buttigieg even anticipated Trump’s critique, accusing O’Rourke of potentially wrecking chances of a deal in Congress. The top tier of Biden, Warren, and Sanders have each kept their heads down about it. Only Cory Booker and the increasingly desperate Kamala Harris, both of whom are polling in the low to mid-single digits, backed O’Rourke. The eventual nominee might conclude that the politics of this issue are just too dicey to go all-in the way Beto has. And if compromise efforts in Congress collapse, Beto himself may end up sharing the blame with Trump, damaging his chances to be a Democratic standard-bearer down the road in Texas.
I mean, that’s some own-goal. Imagine wrecking your entire political future with one debate answer. Short of saying, “I support ISIS,” it’s almost impossible.
In fairness, Trump is probably scapegoating O’Rourke here for his own reluctance to make a deal, knowing that he’s bound to royally piss off one side or the other no matter what he does. But there might be a deal on the table anyway: The Daily Caller is reporting that Bill Barr has been shopping a White House proposal on expanded background checks to members of Congress. If I’m reading the fact sheet correctly, it’s basically Toomey/Manchin — all commercial sales, but not private sales, would now be required to undergo checks — except unlicensed commercial sellers wouldn’t be required to report the name of buyers to the federal government. That’s the White House’s way of trying to reassure gun-rights supporters that this won’t lead to a federal registry.
An interesting detail from the Caller:
One source familiar with the meetings said that Barr pitched the legislation by warning that a lack of action could electrify the Democratic base prior to the 2020 election. Barr also did not consider the background check legislation a gun control measure, instead painting it as a tool to assist law enforcement in cracking down on gun smugglers, the source explained.
The president likes Barr a lot thanks to his handling of Russiagate. If Barr’s telling him that expanding background checks is no big deal, that’s significant. The problem with negotiating with Trump, though, is that he’s apt to change his mind repeatedly depending upon whom he’s talked to last. Everyone remembers that gun-control summit he held with members of both parties in the White House last year, where he sounded like he’d be willing to sign anything they could agree on. Later, after Wayne LaPierre and his friends at Fox had gotten done talking to him, he was firmly pro-Second-Amendment again. In fact, White House aides are *already* hedging on the document that Barr is showing to people. Supposedly, spokesman Hogan Gidley is telling reporters that Trump hasn’t committed to it.
So imagine now that you’re Cory Gardner, facing reelection in a purple state and verrrrry nervous about having to cast a tough vote on gun control. Here comes Bill Barr to pitch you on a version of Toomey/Manchin. What do you do when you still can’t be sure what Trump will do? The president’s own AG is showing you a plan that the president may support today but might not support tomorrow after Tucker Carlson or Hannity or whoever gives him an earful about it on the phone tonight. If you commit to voting for it and then Trump turns around and says, “Only gun-grabbing cucks would vote for this!”, suddenly all the Trumpers in Colorado will think you’re a RINO. If you decide to oppose it in the expectation that Trump will oppose it too, suddenly everyone who supports expanded background checks — which is 90 percent of the country — is mad at you instead. Republicans need clarity from Trump here but they’re not getting it, as usual.
In lieu of an exit question, here’s a new ad for, uh … see, it’s about … well, just watch. It’s something.