It seems every time Donald Trump appears ready to break with Republican Party orthodoxy, the story unravels pretty quickly. There were recent reports, for example, that the presumptive GOP nominee would consider tax increases on the wealthy, but those reports turned out to be wrong. Around the same time, some thought Trump had endorsed a minimum-wage increase. He hadn’t.
With this recent history in mind, I’d recommend caution when reading reports like this one in the Washington Post.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and some vulnerable GOP lawmakers signaled Wednesday that they are open to changing the nation’s gun laws, raising the possibility that the political tide might be shifting on an issue that has sharply divided Americans for years. […]Trump’s renewed focus on gun laws goes against GOP orthodoxy, which generally considers Second Amendment issues to be settled.
The speculation is, to be sure, rooted in tangible evidence. Trump himself said on Twitter yesterday, “I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.”
But the details matter. Keep in mind, as recently as Monday, Trump said, “I will be meeting with the NRA, which has given me their earliest endorsement in a presidential race, to discuss how to ensure Americans have the means to protect themselves in this age of terror. I will be always defending the Second Amendment.”
Given this, when Trump talks about being open to new gun policies, he seems to be looking through a myopic lens: the Republican is open to policies the NRA likes based on a Republican-friendly interpretation of the Second Amendment.
It’s important to remember that Republicans recognize the broad national popularity of some gun reforms, and in an election year, that means GOP officials and candidates will look for ways to thread a needle: they want to appear to be siding with the public, while actually siding with the National Rifle Association.
We’ve already seen one striking example of this. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), running for a second term in New Hampshire, is running ads touting her vote in support of expanded background checks. The problem, as we discussed two weeks ago, is that Ayotte actually voted against the popular, bipartisan background-check bill.
Ayotte nevertheless feels justified making the misleading claim because she supported a rival, NRA-endorsed background-check bill described at the time as “a milquetoast proposal … [that] does nothing to make it harder for criminals to buy firearms at private sales or gun shows, where background checks are not required by law.”
Maybe Trump will prove me wrong. Maybe the NRA-endorsed Republican will surprise the world and come out in support of meaningful reforms that draw progressive praise.
But let’s not forget that the devil is in the details. The question is not whether Trump will support a reform bill, but rather, whether he’ll support a real reform bill.
Anything else is just noise.