If you didn’t watch this afternoon’s White House summit with Republican and Democratic leaders, make time tonight after work — especially if you’re a loud and proud member of MAGA Nation. I want you to see for yourself where the great Republican culture warrior you nominated is on one of the grassroots right’s core issues.
“I don’t want mentally ill people to be having guns,” he says in the clip below. So far, so good: No one wants people who are unstable to be armed, even knowing that only a small percentage of the mentally ill are violent. But we have due process for a reason. If the state could strip you of your rights by declaring you “sick,” without a formal adjudication, the potential abuses are endless. Trump doesn’t seem to care, though. He says at one point here that the cops should have taken the Parkland killer’s weapons whether they had the right or not.
It’s a small comfort that one of the most fascist things he’s said as president was said in support of the left’s pet issue, gun-grabbing:
President Trump tells Senators he thinks police should have taken guns away from Nikolas Cruz, whether they had the right or not, “I don't want mentally ill people to be having guns.” pic.twitter.com/wU6L8ERlas
— Pat Ward (@WardDPatrick) February 28, 2018
He came back to the subject later in the meeting. Of course you get your day in court, POTUS allowed — after your guns have been seized. Not before.
WATCH: President Trump: "I like taking the guns early … Take the guns first, go through due process second." pic.twitter.com/aydEZdAGq0
— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 28, 2018
But he wasn’t done. He spent most of the meeting half-gloating that Republicans in Congress were afraid of the NRA whereas he himself was not. He’s not wrong about that, as he’s the only Republican in America who might — might — have enough populist cred to command the loyalty of the base in a showdown with the NRA over gun regulations. To say that out loud, though, on camera is insane. These are attack-ad soundbites waiting to happen for Democrats:
Sen. Pat Toomey tells President Trump that his bill doesn't deal with raising age limits from 18 to 21 to buy certain weapons.
Trump responds, "You know why, because you are afraid of the NRA."
— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) February 28, 2018
Trump to Republicans in the room:
"Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. you can’t be petrified."
— Lauren Gambino (@laurenegambino) February 28, 2018
Toomey co-authored the background-check bill with Joe Manchin that was filibustered in the Senate after the Newtown shooting. He had a lot to lose potentially by doing that among the GOP’s rural base in Pennsylvania. He’s not afraid of the NRA. Toomey doesn’t need to worry about reelection for awhile, though. Other Republicans do, and they’re going to be bludgeoned by Democrats over gun control this fall. What the hell is Trump thinking giving them a talking point about Republicans being terrified of the gun lobby, which is precisely what the Stoneman Douglas students have been accusing the GOP of over the past two weeks?
Oh, here he is listening to Steve Scalise float the idea of concealed-carry reciprocity as part of a new gun-control bill. That would at least add some sugar to a very bitter pill for gun-rights fans. Trump’s reaction: It’ll never pass, Steve. Leave it for a separate bill. Except, of course, that concealed-carry reciprocity would never, ever pass as a separate bill thanks to the filibuster, which is the entire reason Scalise is thinking of it as a package with new regulations.
President Trump pushes back against Rep. Steve Scalise's proposal to pass concealed carry reciprocity across state lines.
"You'll never get this passed if you add concealed carry to this, you'll never get it passed." pic.twitter.com/GnyU0ETDvN
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) February 28, 2018
Various reporters marveled how he seemed open to virtually everything Democrats proposed at the meeting, up to and including a new assault-weapons ban. Dianne Feinstein’s reaction to that was captured for posterity, which I’ll leave you with below in lieu of an exit question since it seemed to capture the mood this afternoon perfectly. Now we wait to see if this summit was like the immigration summit a few months ago, where Trump bloviated about his willingness to sign anything Congress passes and then quickly reoriented towards a robust border-hawk position once he got behind closed doors again and Stephen Miller and John Kelly set him straight. My guess is that he simply can’t resist the lure of his can-do strongman image, even when that completely undercuts his own base’s ideological position. The public is screaming at him to Do Something! on guns so he’s going to do everything he can to show them he’s on the case, whatever that means for due process or the right to bear arms. He has no principles, only “strength” and authority. So he’s doing what he thinks a strong authoritarian would do in this situation.
Feinstein's reaction when Trump says she should add assault weapons ban to Manchin-Toomey pic.twitter.com/7dlKxwa1KO
— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) February 28, 2018
— Allan Smith (@akarl_smith) February 28, 2018
Update: Great point by Nick Gillespie. Wasn’t Trump whining about due process just a few weeks ago when it came to men like Rob Porter accused of misconduct by women? Why do the Trumps and Porters of the world deserve due process — even outside a courtroom — when people accused of being mentally ill and potentially stripped of their legal rights don’t?
Update: Ben Sasse fired this off in a statement released this afternoon, no doubt with very quiet support from many of his colleagues:
“Strong leaders don’t automatically agree with the last thing that was said to them. We have the Second Amendment and due process of law for a reason. We’re not ditching any Constitutional protections simply because the last person the President talked to today doesn’t like them.”