February 12, 2020

Trump targets swing states with base-friendly message on guns

Washington Examiner | Rob Crilly

After years of toying with the idea of tougher gun controls, President Trump is campaigning for reelection as a champion of the Second Amendment amid new evidence that the stance could help deliver key swing states.

The president defended the right to bear arms in his State of the Union address last week and in recent tweets that took aim at his potential Democratic opponents.

It is part of a strategy that positions him as the champion of those who feel overlooked by metropolitan elites.

Surveys conducted by the pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, found it a winning issue in the target swing states of North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, and Iowa.

Respondents were asked whether they would be more or less likely to support a Democratic presidential candidate who “supports much stronger gun control laws and, in some cases, gun confiscation, even for guns owned by citizens with no criminal record.” In each case, a majority, from 59% to 63% in the different states, said they would be less likely.

Kelly Sadler, the America First Action communications director, said: “There's no stronger supporter of the Second Amendment than President Donald Trump. The Democrats running for president want to strip the American public of this right."

“This is a key policy difference we will be highlighting on the campaign trail, especially in swing states," Sadler said.

Trump demonstrated how he will frame the issue on Monday night at a rally in New Hampshire. He set the right to bear arms alongside rights to free speech, religious freedom, and privacy. He deployed it in a similar way during the State of the Union.

“Just as we believe in the First Amendment, we also believe in another constitutional right that is under siege all across our country," he said. "So long as I am president, I will always protect your Second Amendment right.”

It marks a departure from Trump's frequent flirtation with tighter laws on gun ownership, such as in the wake of the 2018 Parkland shooting and again last year after mass killings in Ohio and Texas.

The approach sets him in opposition to leading Democratic contenders who made gun control a central theme of their campaigns. Former Vice President Joe Biden took the lead for the Obama administration in its ultimately failed effort to secure tighter controls after the Sandy Hook shooting, and Michael Bloomberg has given millions of dollars to gun advocacy groups.

The former mayor of New York City, in particular, has been on the receiving end of Trump’s attacks.

“Now Mini Mike Bloomberg is critical of Jack Wilson, who saved perhaps hundreds of people in a Church because he was carrying a gun, and knew how to use it,” he wrote of the man who shot dead a gunman in a Texas church at the end of last year. “Jack quickly killed the shooter, who was beginning a rampage. Mini is against the 2nd A. His ads are Fake, just like him!”

Aides hope that the stance can help swing states such as Minnesota, New Mexico, and New Hampshire get behind Trump.

Robert Spitzer, professor of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and author of The Politics of Gun Control, said Trump was unlikely to propose new protections for gun rights. Instead, by highlighting Democratic threats, he was able to craft a message that resonated with his base.

“He’s not really about issues, about the details of policy. Frankly, I don’t think he cares very much about gun policy,” he said.

“He cares much more about the feeling, about sense of identity, about how the East Coast and the West Coast looks down its nose at Middle America, including gun owners and gun rights people, and that’s why the messaging is very broad-brush, why it is all about, 'They don’t like you. They want to take away all your guns. They want to take away your rights.'”