In a White House meeting in the wake of the Parkland shootings, Donald Trump made a big, public demonstration of his courage in daring to buck the National Rifle Association, drawing a pointed contrast to the craven attitude of congressional leaders.
“Some of you people are petrified of the NRA,” he said, taunting senators and House members gathered around the table as the TV cameras ran, capturing his moment. “You can’t be petrified.”
“They have great power over you people; they have less power over me.”
Trump then tried to press congressional leaders on the idea of raising the federal age limit on purchases of long guns from 18 to 21 years old.
“This is not a popular thing to say, in terms of the NRA, but I’m saying it anyway. I’m going to just have to say it,” Trump told attendees. “You can’t buy a handgun at 18, 19, or 20. You have to wait until you’re 21. But you can buy the gun, the weapon used in this horrible shooting, at 18.”
He then challenged Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, asking whether their proposed background-check bill addressed the age limit. They told him it did not.
“You know why?” Trump responded. “Because you’re afraid of the NRA, right?”
That was less than two weeks ago, and in the interim we’ve watched a familiar pattern play out: Trump talks a big public game about leadership, about daring, about his willingness to take political risks to get things done. To hear him talk, he’s a political superhero. He’s done it on health care, on protecting the Dreamers, on meeting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Last week he did it on the opioid epidemic, proposing to solve it by executing drug dealers.
“I never did polling on that -- I don't know if that's popular, I don't know if that's unpopular,” he told a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. “But these people are killing our kids and they're killing our families, and we have to do something. We can't just keep setting up blue-ribbon committees with your wife and your wife and your husband, and they meet and they have a meal and they talk, talk talk talk, two hours later, then they write a report."
Over the weekend, the Trump White House released its final recommendations on school safety and gun safety in the wake of the Parkland massacre. The same president who promised leadership on the issue and harangued Congress to take action is now proposing to, well, form a commission to study the problem, headed by Education Secretary Betsy Devos.
And the idea of defying the NRA by raising the federal age limit on gun purchases? That has been dropped altogether, and on Monday morning, Trump gave us an explanation as to why:
According to Trump, there’s “not much political support (to put it mildly)” for raising the age limit. Is that true?
No, of course it is not true. It is the opposite of true.
- According to a recent poll taken for NPR, 82 percent of Americans and 72 percent of Republicans support raising the age limit to 21. Just 18 percent of Americans oppose it.
- A recent Harris poll found that 84 percent of Americans, and 77 percent of Republicans, support raising the age limit.
- A CNN poll taken late last month confirmed that general finding, with 71 percent of Americans and 61 percent of Republicans supporting a ban on gun purchases for those under 21.
Clearly, the political support exists. In an otherwise deeply divided country, support for raising the age limit is overwhelming and crosses political lines, racial lines, gender lines and educational lines. So when Trump claims “not much political support” for the idea, he is referring not to support from the American people, and not to support from Republicans, but to the NRA.
The man who bragged that he would have run into Marjorie Stoneham Douglas High School, unarmed, to try to save students being slaughtered by a gunman firing an AR-15, the man who called a police officer a coward for failing to confront the mass murderer, has once again talked big and has delivered not at all.
It’s all a show, ladies and gentlemen, a made-for-TV reality show. He’s not a president, he merely plays one on TV, and we’re his studio audience.