Just a few weeks ago at a meeting with lawmakers, President Trump had this exchange with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.):
TRUMP: You can’t buy a handgun at 18, 19 or 20. You have to wait till your [sic] 21, but you can buy the gun, the weapon used in this horrible shooting at 18.
You are going to decide, the people in this room pretty much, you’re going to decide. But, I would give very serious thought to it. I can say that the NRA is opposed to it and I’m a fan of the NRA. I mean, there’s no bigger fan. I’m a big fan of the NRA. They wanted to — these are great people.
These are great patriots. They love our country. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait until I’m 21 to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at 18. I don’t know.
So I was just curious as to what you did in your bill. You don’t address it?
TOOMEY: We didn’t address, it, Mr. President. But I think we…
TRUMP: You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA, right? Ha ha.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: It wasn’t an issue five years ago, it didn’t come up.
TRUMP: It’s a big issue right now, and a lot of people are talking about it. But a lot of people — a lot of people are afraid of that issue. Raising the age for that weapon to 21.
Well, now it seems — to the surprise of no one who has noted Trump’s insincere rhetoric and fidelity to the far right — Trump reveals his own cowardice when it comes to the NRA.
The White House on Sunday vowed to help provide “rigorous firearms training” to some schoolteachers and formally endorsed a bill to tighten the federal background checks system, but it backed off President Trump’s earlier call to raise the minimum age to purchase some guns to 21 years old from 18 years old. …
The idea of arming some teachers has been controversial and has drawn sharp opposition from the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers lobby, among other groups. Many of the student survivors have urged Washington to toughen restrictions on gun purchases, but such measures are fiercely opposed by the National Rifle Association, and the Trump plan does not include substantial changes to gun laws.
In other words, whatever nice words Trump had for the victims’ families and classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., he cannot bear to disappoint an essential source of support, the NRA gun absolutists. He is no more willing to cross the NRA than he is to betray the anti-immigrant activists who oppose the only viable deal to legalize the “dreamers.”
Trump might not have any fixed ideological views, but his constant need for affirmation from his devoted following makes him unwilling to depart from their ideological tenets. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted the president in a written statement. “The White House has taken tiny baby steps designed not to upset the NRA, when the gun violence epidemic in this country demands that giant steps be taken,” he said. “Democrats in the Senate will push to go further including passing universal background checks, actual federal legislation on protection orders, and a debate on banning assault weapons.” Do not expect any different result from Senate Republicans who are likewise beholden to members of their base, who are convinced that any compromise on guns becomes a slippery slope to socialism, gun confiscation and tyranny.
No, really. That’s no exaggeration. “If they seize power, if the so-called European socialists take over the House and the Senate and, God forbid, they get the White House again, our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever,” NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre thundered at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month. “They care more about control and more of it. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms’ freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”
Republican lawmakers, whether they believe this nuttery or not, have decided that is what their base believes, and therefore what they, too, must espouse. From a purely political perspective, these politicians are “right” — their base does believe in all sorts of non-facts and conspiracy theories, some of which was encouraged over the years by more supposedly respectable conservative gatekeepers who churned out rationalizations for immigration exclusionism, climate-change denial and a host of other theories that served their ideological aims.
Whether the subject is guns, the environment, immigration, Russia veneration or crime, GOP politicians are racing to keep up with the mob’s most recent paranoid nostrums. When it comes to running scared, however, no one outpaces Trump.