Two weeks ago, Donald Trump hosted a fascinating meeting at the White House with a bipartisan group of senators, and to the surprise of many, the Republican president expressed support for “comprehensive” reforms to the nation’s gun laws. In fact, Trump said, he envisioned a “beautiful” bill that included all kinds of provisions.
Such as? The president’s vision included everything from hiking age requirements on long-guns to “powerful” background checks to gun confiscation without prior due process. As for the National Rifle Association, Trump went so far as to mock Republicans to their face for fearing the far-right lobbying group.
Almost immediately, the White House signaled that Trump’s rhetoric may not reflect the president’s actual policy vision, and now that Team Trump has unveiled a blueprint, the 180-degree turn is complete. A Washington Post report noted:
Trump has said he was personally moved by the shooting – and by the persistent and impassioned calls for action from some of the teenage survivors as well as parents of the victims – and elevated the issue of school safety in his administration. He has called for raising the minimum age for purchasing an AR-15 or similar-style rifles from 18 to 21 years old.
“Now, this is not a popular thing to say, in terms of the NRA. But I’m saying it anyway,” Trump said in a Feb. 28 meeting with lawmakers. “You can buy a handgun – you can’t buy one; you have to wait until you’re 21. But you can buy the kind of weapon used in the school shooting at 18. I think it’s something you have to think about.”
Yes, and apparently Trump administration officials are done thinking about it and have decided to leave it up to state officials to decide what to do about age requirements.
The president’s plan, however, does include support for arms training for school teachers and creates a commission to examine school safety, to be led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Nearly all of Trump’s ambitious vision, however, has been shelved, just two weeks after it was articulated by the president.
And that in turn reinforces a few key truths:
1. Donald Trump doesn’t speak for the Trump administration. Watching the White House meeting two weeks ago was a surreal experience, largely because most of us knew at the time that the president’s team and his allies would ignore everything he was saying. The reversal was inevitable, and now it’s happened, to the surprise of no one. We’ve all internalized the uncomfortable fact that Trump doesn’t speak for the Trump administration, and all of his pronouncements are subject to quick walk-backs from others in the West Wing.
2. There’s no point in negotiating with this president. Trump doesn’t know or care about public policy, and when he makes pronouncements, he generally has no intention of following through on commitments. So why would anyone bother to negotiate with him? How many times – and on how many issues – must this president disappoint his ostensible governing partners before officials simply stop showing up for meetings?
3. Trump’s instincts aren’t always bad, but they are always irrelevant. When talking about immigration, the president used to voice support for some progressive goals. The same is true on health care. And gun policy. And infrastructure. Trump’s instincts aren’t the problem. After the latest school massacre, for example, his instincts told him to stand up to the NRA – and admonish those who don’t.
What ultimately matters is whether he fully understands what he’s saying and whether his White House intends to honor the goals. Most of the time, they don’t.
For much of Trump’s presidency, Rachel has talked about treating practically everything the White House says like a “silent movie” – in effect, pretending not to hear them – because the president and his team simply aren’t reliable sources of information, even about themselves and their own agenda. We now know treating everything Trump said at his meeting on guns two weeks ago as a silent movie was the right thing to do.