Will Donald Trump hold the line against gun-control efforts, or look for a way to cut another “big deal” with his political opposition? It only took hours for gun-control advocates to ramp up the pressure on Republicans after the Las Vegas mass shooting, with Hollywood and a few Democrats accusing the GOP of complicity in the deaths of dozens of concertgoers. If Trump values legislative wins over ideology, the circumstances here seem to line up for a bipartisan bill that would loop in moderates within his own party and offer a rare win for Democrats on gun control.
Axios’ Jonathan Swan asked former White House adviser Steve Bannon whether Trump’s base would allow that. Bannon replied that the reaction would be “actually worse” than the response to the DACA negotiations, and would mean “the end of everything”:
President Trump may say he’s a defender of gun ownership rights, but with all the gun control pressure he’ll be under after Las Vegas, how do we know he’ll resist it — especially after the debt limit deal with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, and his flirtation with a deal on DACA?
Bottom line: Trump’s allies, both inside and out of the White House, are mostly sure he’ll resist because he owes too much to the NRA and its supporters — but even some of them aren’t 100 percent sure. …
I asked Steve Bannon whether he could imagine Trump pivoting to the left on guns after the Las Vegas massacre. “Impossible: will be the end of everything,” Bannon texted. When asked whether Trump’s base would react worse to this than they would if he supported an immigration amnesty bill, Bannon replied: “as hard as it is to believe actually worse.”
Well, maybe. Prior to Trump’s dance with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, it seemed unthinkable that Trump’s base would tolerate his cooperation with the DREAM Act too, but here we are, and without even a hint of the border wall in return. Trump’s core supporters care about Trump more than they do ideology, or perhaps more specifically, Trump’s general attitude more than his policy decisions. If he turns around and pushes gun control, most of them will call Trump a pragmatist, blame “the swamp,” and cast Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell as the villains.
We should ask ourselves what matters to Trump rather than his base, though. What he values most is loyalty, and few organizations have been as loyal to Trump — and for as long — as the NRA, Swan points out:
“POTUS (correctly) believes he doesn’t owe anything to most traditional Republican outside groups, because they didn’t lift a finger to help him in the election,” said a Trump administration source. “NRA is very much the exception. They stayed loyal through it all and kept spending.” We’re told Trump feels a personal connection to the NRA and is close to the NRA’s top lobbyist, Chris Cox.
Don’t expect a complete flip on gun rights, in other words. That still leaves room for Trump to throw a few bones to Democrats and moderates in his own party, however. The NRA had lobbied hard for a bill to relax restrictions on suppressors, which have nothing to do with the shooting in Las Vegas, but the massacre will almost certainly make it politically toxic. Ditto for national carry-permit reciprocity, but that bill will likely make a comeback sooner than the suppressor bill, as there are better reasons for it. Trump could also encourage Congress to ban “bump stocks,” accessories that essentially convert semi-automatic rifles into full auto output. Neither of these have any particular critical use for gun owners, and at least the latter was used in the shooting.
Will that satisfy the the gun control crowd? Of course not. Neither will it endear Trump to Democrats, or make them less likely to call him Hitler. But Trump may need to learn that lesson the hard way.