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NRA steps in to remind Trump of what he's supposed to think

Last year, Trump endorsed gun reforms, before quietly retreating under NRA pressure. Don't be surprised if history repeats itself.
Donald Trump speaks after accepting an endorsement at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky., May 20, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)
Donald Trump speaks after accepting an endorsement at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky., May 20, 2016.

In the aftermath of the mass shooting in a Parkland, Fla., high school, Donald Trump talked a good game about ambitious gun reforms. At one especially memorable White House discussion with Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the president not only endorsed a "comprehensive" solution to combat gun violence, he also seemed to publicly mock his GOP allies for being "so afraid of the NRA."

Two weeks later, Trump abandoned his plans. The National Rifle Association reminded the Republican what he was supposed to believe, at which point the president quietly retreated from nearly all of the positions he'd earlier endorsed.

A year and a half later, after much of the country was shook by back-to-back mass shootings, Trump has been more circumspect, rejecting calls for an assault-weapons ban and restrictions on high-capacity magazines, but endorsing expanded background checks and new "red-flag" laws.

And this week, just like early 2018, the NRA is signaling to its White House allies what is and isn't possible. The Washington Post reports today that the president's comments "prompted a warning" from the far-right organization.

NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre spoke with Trump on Tuesday after the president expressed support for a background check bill and told him it would not be popular among Trump's supporters, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal talks. LaPierre also argued against the bill's merits, the officials said.The NRA, which opposes the legislation sponsored by Sens. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), declined to comment.

It's possible, of course, that this time will be different. Maybe Trump, eyeing the 2020 race, will risk alienating the NRA, confident that the organization -- plagued by institutional scandals and strife -- is weakened and far less relevant than it once was.

But I wouldn't count on it. This president values his base above all else, and he clearly sees the NRA as a partner and an ally.

All of which is to say, no matter how much Trump expresses public support for new gun reforms, it's best to treat his rhetoric as background noise of no real substantive or predictive value.

His track record is one of making bold assurances, followed by pathetic retreats. There's no reason to assume Trump will be any different now.