"I am convinced that if this president could confiscate every gun in America, he would. I am convinced that this president, if he could get rid of the Second Amendment, he would."
Marco Rubio recently launched a television ad in which he insists President Obama is trying to take away Americans' guns. ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked the senator the other day to defend the claim, which appears to be completely at odds with reality.
"Well," Rubio replied, "if he could he would."
In other words, the Republican presidential candidate lied in his campaign commercial, but he feels justified in doing so because of what he imagines the president might be secretly thinking.
In last night's GOP debate, Fox's Neil Cavuto pressed Rubio on the same point, noting that the White House hasn't actually taken anyone's guns. The senator responded:
Oh. So as long as a candidate has "convinced" himself that his fantasy is real, it doesn't matter if he makes stuff up.
There's more to this than just incoherent campaign rhetoric from a confused senator. The larger point is that President Obama's actual agenda as it relates to guns isn't, on a substantive level, particularly controversial. He's issued no executive orders; he's made no bold moves towards confiscation; and the White House has done little more than make incremental changes around the margins. Even the NRA's lobbying arm is underwhelmed.
But that reality doesn't excite the Republican base, leaving GOP officials and candidates in a bind. The solution, according to Rubio, is to play the role of a mind-reader: sure, the president isn't actually doing scary things, but if we imagine his secret thoughts, we find evidence of how correct we are about his nefarious agenda.
Is it any wonder the debate over gun policy is a disjointed mess?
Stepping back, I'm curious if Rubio's approach is allowed to cut both ways. Are Republicans' critics allowed to look past the GOP's proposals, quotes, ideas, and platform, complaining instead about what Democrats imagine Republicans might be secretly thinking?