While public polls show overwhelming support for action on guns, private polls conducted for Republicans show Trump’s strongest supporters have little interest in that. Trump, who runs the government as if it were a proxy for only his most fervent fans, seemed to go wobbly on the issue. A White House official said Trump still wanted stronger background checks but recognized the risks of alienating his supporters.

A Republican who speaks with senior White House officials regularly says this is what many aides were looking to avoid. The problem, this Republican says, is that Trump rushed into the debate with gut instincts but little grasp of gun policy. This was, after all, a man who wrote in a pre-campaign book that he favored a ban on assault weapons—and then won the White House with record support from the NRA.