Why an op-ed? And why the Times?
There are several obvious, surface-level reasons. The Times is, of course, one of the nation’s most important and most-read publications. Last month, in fact, it ran an editorial on its front page for the first time in nearly a century, the purpose of which just happened to be calling for more gun control. So there’s that.
And Obama, don’t forget, is a lawyer — and lawyers like presenting arguments in writing. In fact, Obama is something of a regular on the opinion pages of American newspapers. In October, he wrote an op-ed promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership that appeared in a handful of local newspapers, including the Concord (N.H.) Monitor and the Tampa Bay Times. He did the same in August to plug the Iran nuclear agreement, and over the years his op-eds have also appeared in the Wall Street Journal and right here in The Washington Post.
Then there’s the simple idea of covering all your bases. Obama held that emotional news conference on Tuesday, he scheduled the town hall event for Thursday, and he’s been pushing his gun-control agenda on social media all week.
Might as well make the case in print, too, to make sure the message gets out through as many channels as possible.
But there is a bit more to the president’s selection of the Times, specifically, and it’s related to my first point about the paper’s importance and readership.
To be precise, the New York Times is perhaps the most important publication among liberals. Its readership clearly leans in that direction, and it is revered by liberal thought leaders, not least among them being Obama, who has made clear repeatedly that it's his favorite newspaper.
And if you read Obama’s message closely — actually, you don’t have to read it that closely to pick up on this — you’ll notice he isn’t really trying to bring conservatives over to his side here. He would be thrilled if some change their minds, of course, but this is really, at its heart, a message to Obama’s allies on the left — perhaps up to and including 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Here’s the key line: “I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform.”
Obama wrote that he is resigned to the reality that “common-sense gun reform won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my presidency.” In other words, it’s on future candidates, officeholders and voters to take up the cause, and this will be a deal-breaker for Obama. If you want the benefit of his endorsement (assuming that’s a plus), you better get on board with his gun-control agenda.
That could be read to include Clinton, who in the 2008 primaries against Obama tried to appeal to more middle-of-the-road voters on issues like guns. In the 2016 primary campaign, however, Clinton has been on-board with Obama's calls for more gun control -- and actually has run to Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) left on the issue.
If the message pertains to other Democrats, you have to wonder who they are. Obama isn't popular overall, meaning his endorsement probably isn't a big "get" in swing states and districts. And it's Democrats in these areas have most often wavered on backing Obama on gun control measures.
But whatever the aim, for delivering that message, the Times was a natural choice.