NRA circles the wagons around Trump – Politico
The shotgun wedding between Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association has been rocky, but the gun rights group is standing by its man.
Just hours after Donald Trump sparked yet another controversy with remarks that seemed, to some, to encourage violence against Hillary Clinton, the NRA offered its biggest gift yet to the Republican nominee – a $3 million ad buy attacking Clinton as a hypocrite.
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The spot – which calls Clinton “out of touch” for living under Secret Service protection while promoting gun restrictions – is the biggest single ad buy for Trump this cycle and it brings the NRA’s total spending this cycle to around $6 million.
No other major political group is spending money on the Republican nominee. Quite the contrary, the ad buy comes as Trump’s campaign struggles to stem defections as it watches some of the GOP’s most reliable supporters, donors, and elected officials abandon their nominee in response to Trump’s rhetoric and conduct on the campaign trail.
But for the NRA, support for Trump reflects a calculation inside the gun-rights community that is less about the Republican and more about stopping Clinton’s march to the White House. With Supreme Court appointments to be made, the NRA has chosen to go all-in on what it sees as a wild card over the certain antagonist.
But getting gun-rights activists to fall in line behind the Manhattan real estate mogul hasn’t been easy, and Trump’s comments on Tuesday created a new complication.
“Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment,” Trump said at a rally. “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day.”
Politicians across the spectrum expressed dismay while Clinton and her allies heard a threat on her life – a message that runs counter to the NRA’s commitment to law-abiding gun ownership.
The NRA jumped to Trump’s defense.
“.@realDonaldTrump is right. If @HillaryClinton gets to pick her anti-#2A #SCOTUS judges, there’s nothing we can do,” the group tweeted. “But there IS something we will do on #ElectionDay: Show up and vote for the #2A! #DefendtheSecond #NeverHillary.”
That message echoed the Trump team’s explanation; he was referring, the campaign said, to the intense commitment of gun-rights activists, whom the NRA has mobilized to defeat opponents of its agenda for decades.
But some influential members of the NRA community felt otherwise, at least at first.
The NRA’s lobbying division is a major advertiser on Bearing Arms, a gun news website, and its editor, Bob Owens, has been critical of Trump. He backed the group’s decision to endorse Trump in May, citing the threat from Clinton. On Tuesday, however, he tweeted that Trump’s words were “neither nuanced nor clever” but “a threat of violence. As a REAL supporter of the #2A it’s appalling to me.”
Not long after a reporter asked the NRA about his tweet, he deleted that post, and wrote an editorial titled, “No, Donald Trump Did Not Just Suggest Hillary Clinton Should Be Assassinated.” He did not respond to emails asking what prompted his more forgiving interpretation.
“This is yet another example of how the NRA is not the hunting and sporting organization of our grandfather’s generation — rather they are showing their true colors as the craven lobby of gun manufacturers,” said Erika Soto Lamb, communications director for Everytown USA, a gun-control group backed by Michael Bloomberg.
“The NRA does not represent the interests of the vast majority of responsible gun owners who know that the Second Amendment should never be used as a threat or to incite violence.”
Getting its 5 million members on board has been a months-long struggle for the NRA.
Some members grumbled about the decision to back a candidate who once supported an assault weapons ban and criticized politicians who “walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions,” as he did in a 2000 book.
But the NRA forged ties to Trump’s sons, who group officials say are knowledgeable and committed hunters. Through them, the NRA’s leadership has come to trust Trump.
During the 2016 election cycle, Trump has consistently vowed to protect gun rights – though he and the NRA have not always been on the same page. Trump has embraced the NRA’s adage that the only way to stop a “bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” and after the massacre of 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June, Trump suggested that having armed people at the bar could reduce bloodshed. The NRA’s chief strategist Chris Cox rejected the idea of arming people who are drinking, saying it “defies commonsense” and the law.
And a few days earlier, Trump tried to create distance with the NRA over a proposal to ban people on a terror watch list from buying guns, tweeting that he would “meet with the NRA” about it. That put the NRA – which supported a different measure that would let the government delay a sale and block it after showing evidence of terrorist involvement – on the defensive. Cox made the rounds to insist that any perceived disagreement with Trump was a media creation.
So too, the NRA says, was any implication of violence in Trump’s comments on Tuesday, as its Twitter account highlighted a largely ignored comment by then-Sen. Joe Biden from the 2008 campaign to accuse the media of a double standard. (Biden, in a bid to reassure to reassure voters about the Democratic candidate’s commitment to gun rights, said that if then-Sen. Barack Obama “tries to fool with my Beretta, he’s got a problem.” https://twitter.com/NRA/status/763167335595188224
The NRA also embraced Trump’s comments as a way to remind his supporters that the Supreme Court is at stake. Its new ad, which is running on national cable and on broadcast networks in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada and North Carolina, casts Clinton as an elitist who benefits from armed government protection while aspiring to deprive regular people of their rights. That echoed Cox’s message during his unprecedented primetime address at the GOP convention. The group also ran a spot to rebut Democrats’ gun-violence-prevention message at their convention, accusing Clinton of hiding her anti-gun stance, In July, the group spent about $3 million on an unusual spot that didn’t mention gun rights, but attacked Clinton on Benghazi.
Clinton insists she supports the right of law-abiding people to own guns, but the NRA doesn’t buy it. She has made tightening gun laws, including expanding background checks and instituting an assault weapons ban, a centerpiece of her campaign and the group points to her statement in a private fundraiser that the Supreme Court was “wrong on the Second Amendment” when it ruled in a 2008 decision, known as Heller, that the Bill of Rights applies to individual gun ownership.