President Obama acknowledged during the last news conference of his first term Monday that he may not get all of the gun control measures he proposes through Congress, but said, “My starting point is not to worry about the politics.”
That attitude perhaps comes from the knowledge that whatever he proposes in relation to gun safety will likely be met with staunch opposition from the right and the National Rifle Association. Just as the Tea Party has been called “the Party of no”, the NRA has made obstruction its modus operandi since the late 1970s.
The Washington Post described this weekend how the NRA changed from a “marksmanship group” that focused on hunting and teaching Boy Scouts gun safety, into a powerful gun lobby that is “absolutist in their interpretation of the Second Amendment.” The change began when a new wave of leadership overran the old guard who were less interested in politics and influencing gun legislation.
In 1975, an NRA board member named Harlon Carter wrote a letter declaring, “We can win it on a simple concept—No compromise. No gun legislation.” Carter would later be voted the executive vice president and make a refusal to budge on any gun legislation part of the NRA’s mission.
The hijacking of the NRA by right-wing lobbyists is not so different from the Tea Party’s rise to power within the ranks of the Republican Party. Like the NRA under Carter, the Tea Party has flown the banner of intransigence. Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party challenger who knocked out 6-term incumbent Republican Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, even created a radical new definition of compromise, saying ”I certainly think bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
While these movements took hold three decades apart from each other, they are currently having a similar, amplified impact on the Republican Party: driving it further toward the right while marginalizing moderates. Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to Former President George W. Bush wrote last week, “Guns are killing the Republican Party,” arguing the party has a backward view on guns that will lead it to “irrelevance.” Meanwhile, shining a light on the impact of the Tea Party’s politics of “no” strategy, Republican pollster Frank Luntz recently wrote,”Congressional Republicans are currently defined as nothing more than opponents of the president and friends of the powerful. This isn’t my opinion—it’s America’s opinion.”
In the lead-up to the fiscal cliff, a Gallup poll found 62% of Americans wanted Congress to find a solution by compromising. According to that survey, the guiding principles of the NRA and the Tea Party are both aligned with a minority of Americans. And if the GOP continues to give each of these groups a defining role in their tent, the Party’s future may not look too bright.
For more on the debate over gun control and the impact of the NRA, watch Alex Wagner’s discussion with her panel and Nera Tanden from the Center for American Politics in the video above.