President Obama’s anti-gun speech on Thursday was as cloying as it was purposeless. He played every heartstring and wrung every tear he could: “It’s been barely 100 days since 20 innocent children and six brave educators were taken from us by gun violence — including Grace McDonnell and Lauren Rousseau and Jesse Lewis, whose families are here today. . . . We have moms on this stage whose children were killed as recently as 35 days ago.” There is no victim who cannot become a prop in the president’s telling. The sheer maudlin overload must cause even devoted gun-control advocates to cringe. (At times the one-liners surely deserved mockery: “Now is the time to turn that heartbreak into something real.” Yes, never let a child’s death go to waste, I suppose.)

President Barack Obama speaks at an interfaith vigil for Sandy Hook victims - Olivier Douliery/ President Barack Obama speaks at an interfaith vigil for Sandy Hook victims – Olivier Douliery/

But what was he asking Congress to do? He ticked off “universal background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun,” “tough new penalties for anyone who buys guns only to turn around and sell them to criminals” and a ban on “weapons of war and high-capacity ammunition magazines.” Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has already said the assault weapons ban isn’t going to be part of the bill on the floor. So does he not care about those moms with freshly buried children?

It is odd, frankly, for Obama to keep raising items he isn’t going to get (e.g. assault weapons ban, limit on magazines). It puts his Democratic colleagues in the Senate in a worse spot and will only make any final bill without those items a loss.

On closer inspection, the speech sounded like a campaign left-wing pep rally. (“Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change. And that’s why it’s so important that all these moms and dads are here today. But that’s also why it’s important that we’ve got grassroots groups out there that got started and are out there mobilizing and organizing and keeping up the fight.”) You can’t help but suspect this is a reaction to his plummeting poll numbers, a rather pathetic attempt to get his base back in the game.

The speech predictably stirred defiance among Republicans. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) released a statement that read in part: “It is saddening to see the President today, once again, try to take advantage of this tragic murder to promote an agenda that will do nothing to stop violent crime, but will undermine the constitutional rights of all law-abiding Americans. I am committed to working with Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Jim Inhofe–and I hope many other colleagues–to use any procedural means necessary to protect those fundamental rights.” Earlier in the week those senators sent a letter to Reid declaring they would object to any motion to proceed (i.e. filibuster) any measure that infringed on the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.

The president is seemingly flopping from one subject (tax hikes) to another (anti-gun laws), trying to go over the heads of lawmakers to the public. But the public has never been all that receptive to his policy pleas, and this time will be no different. Rather than scare lawmakers into supporting his anti-gun agenda, he is radiating desperation and further isolating himself from voters in states with some vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents or with open seats.

The actual problem for the president is the Democrats in the Senate who want no part of his most extreme measures. The worst kept secret in D.C. is that Republicans would love to see votes on all these items and watch Democrats squirm. It is Reid who is trying his best to shield his members from hard votes and/or prevent a humiliating loss for the gun-control crowd.