Pontificate in haste, repent at leisure. Or perhaps Donald Trump didn’t have as much leisure as he might have surmised. After a disastrous performance in a “listening session” yesterday in which Trump ridiculed Republicans for being controlled by the NRA and suggested grabbing guns without due process, the president offered a hint of a walkback today on his favorite medium:
Many ideas, some good & some not so good, emerged from our bipartisan meeting on school safety yesterday at the White House. Background Checks a big part of conversation. Gun free zones are proven targets of killers. After many years, a Bill should emerge. Respect 2nd Amendment!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 1, 2018
“Some good & some not so good,” indeed, and the latter puts it mildly. One not-so-good idea was his attack on the NRA, an organization that jumped in early to back Trump and has been stalwart in his defense ever since, and on his fellow Republicans in the room. Castigating them for agreeing with the organization that embraced Trump was … a bit surprising, to say the least:
Sitting with a group of Democrats and Republicans, including some who are backed by the NRA, Trump made what sounded like an extraordinary break with the powerful gun-rights organization. He accused lawmakers of being so “petrified” by the NRA that they have not been willing to take even small steps on gun control.
“They have great power over you people,” Trump said. “They have less power over me.”
That certainly caught the attention of the NRA, which had to be wondering what hit it. They were careful not to aim any personal criticism at the president, but did snark that Trump’s remarks “made for great TV”:
“While today’s meeting made for great TV, the gun-control proposals discussed would make for bad policy that would not keep our children safe,” NRA public affairs director Jennifer Baker said. “Instead of punishing law-abiding gun owners for the acts of a deranged lunatic, our leaders should pass meaningful reforms that would actually prevent future tragedies.”
Lawmakers should focus on “fixing the broken mental health system, strengthening background checks to ensure the records of people who are prohibited from possessing firearms are in the (National Instant Criminal Background Check) system, securing our schools and preventing the dangerously mentally ill from accessing firearms,” Baker added.
The attack on his close ally and key connection to middle-America voters was stunning and inexplicable, except as a demonstration of Trump’s whimsical and arbitrary temperament. Republicans will face a tough midterm election in 2018, and it may be even tougher in 2020 to hold the White House. Trump’s not going to win converts on the Left by cutting ties with the NRA, but he’ll lose lots of votes by attacking the NRA as a big conspiracy and casting them in the same light as the mainstream media that Trump loves to attack. And Trump doesn’t have that many votes to spare.
Going the Full Authoritarian didn’t help, either:
“Take the firearms first, and then go to court,” Trump said, cutting off Vice President Pence as Pence articulated a version of the due-process arguments that the NRA and other gun-rights advocates have used to derail past gun-control measures. “You could do exactly what you’re saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.”
That prompted a stunning rebuke from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who accused Trump of flouting the Constitution.
“Strong leaders don’t automatically agree with the last thing that was said to them,” Sasse said in a statement. “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.”
By the time the meeting was over, Senate Republicans made it plain that they planned to ignore Trump’s suggestions altogether:
Senate Republicans say President Trump’s comments Wednesday calling for more ambitious gun-control proposals won’t change the political calculus in their conference, which supports a limited response to the shooting at a Florida high school.
Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is leading the GOP response to gun violence in the upper chamber, told reporters after the meeting with Trump at the White House that he still favors a limited approach.
By this morning, White House advisers must have made the political damage clear to Trump, hence the “some not so good” admission. He’s reverted back to the “Respect 2nd Amendment!” position. For now, anyway. Until the next time he’s put in a room with Dianne Feinstein with the TV cameras rolling.
We certainly feel much better now.