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“The Electoral Landscape Has Shifted”: Republicans May Finally Pay A Price For Towing NRA Line On Guns

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who led an unusual talking filibuster this week to promote Democratic measures on guns, now wants to take the issue to the ballot box.  Here’s what he told Roll Call in an article published today:

“There has to be a storyline coming out of 2016 that shows that senators that voted against consensus measures like mandatory background checks pay a political price.”

Which sounds like standard political rhetoric — everyone says that the public will rise up and support them on their issues. But the crazy thing is, he might be right.

I don’t say this lightly — I’ve been writing about the gun issue for years, and though I’ve long argued that the the NRA’s power to punish its enemies and reward its friends at the ballot box is a myth, it’s extremely rare for Republicans to actually lose elections because of the gun issue. But a confluence of events and critical timing could make 2016 different. Most surprising of all, there’s even a remote but real possibility that Congress could pass a gun control measure in 2017.

In the wake of the shooting in Orlando, Democrats are now pushing two separate ideas, both of which have failed to make it through Congress before. The first would make it easier for the federal government to stop gun sales to those who have been investigated for terrorism, which we’re going to put aside for the moment. The second proposal is universal background checks, which would extend those checks to private sales that today don’t require them, closing the “private seller loophole.”

It’s long been a source of wonder that in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre when 20 elementary school children were gunned down, and with polls showing support for the measure running at 90 percent (including huge majorities of gun owners), Congress still couldn’t pass universal background checks. If it didn’t happen then, why could it happen now? The answer is that timing is everything.

The Sandy Hook massacre took place in December of 2012. When Congress began to debate the Manchin-Toomey bill that included background checks, it was 2013. The election to which lawmakers were looking forward was the 2014 off-year election. Everyone knew that, with a Democratic president, it was going to be another big year for Republicans, since their voters are more likely to turn out in non-presidential years than Democratic voters are. So one of the big questions was how vulnerable Democrats from Republican-leaning states, who had been elected in the 2008 Obama wave, were going to vote.

In the end, the bill had a 54-46 majority, not enough to overcome the Republicans’ filibuster. Among the Democrats who voted for it were Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, both of whom lost their re-election bids that November. Four Democrats opposed it: the retiring Max Baucus, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota. Begich and Pryor lost that year, too, while Heitkamp isn’t up for reelection until 2018. And on the Republican side, only Pat Toomey (the bill’s co-sponsor), John McCain, Susan Collins, and Mark Kirk voted in favor.

It’s unclear exactly how much of an impact their votes had on the campaigns of Hagan, Landrieu, Begich, and Pryor. But you can bet that facing an electorate they knew was going to be stacked against them, the vote weighed on their minds.

Now let’s think about the current environment. The senators up for re-election this year came into office in the tea party wave of 2010, which is why Republicans are defending many more seats than Democrats. The most vulnerable Republicans are those from Democratic-leaning states, who now have to face a presidential-year electorate that will be much more tilted to Democratic voters than it was when they got elected the first time. They’ll also be carrying the weight of their party’s presidential nominee behind them.

Those vulnerable senators are the following, in rough order of how likely they already are to lose in November: Mark Kirk (IL), Ron Johnson (WI), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA). If Marco Rubio decides to run again, you can put him in there too. Ayotte, Johnson, and Portman all voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill in 2013. Do you think their Democratic opponents are going to make an issue out of that? Oh yes they will.

In fact, even before Orlando, Ayotte was running ads claiming to be a background check supporter, when what she actually backed was an NRA-approved alternative to Manchin-Toomey, one that was about as meaningful as you’d expect. Portman now says he’s open to restricting sales to people probed for terrorism, but his campaign web site goes on in some length about his opposition to universal background checks. Johnson has suggested there might be a possible compromise on gun sales and the terror watch list, but he hasn’t changed his position on background checks, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Democrats to criticize him on that. Kirk is almost certain to lose anyway.

And Pat Toomey? Well, if Toomey does survive when other Republicans lose, many people will say that his high-profile advocacy for background checks was an important reason. If you combine that with defeats of other Republicans, you could see an entirely new conventional wisdom take shape, one that says that the electoral landscape on guns has shifted. Now it’s Republicans who are on the defensive, because of their doctrinaire opposition to even measures that nine out of ten Americans support.

There is a scenario in which even the NRA’s lock on Congress — which, unlike their alleged electoral potency, is real — could be broken. It’s possible (even if it’s a longshot) that the Democrats could take control of the House in an anti-Trump sweep to go with their (much more likely) win in the Senate. Passing something like background checks would require overcoming a filibuster, which is not likely at all. But it’s also possible that, in the face of broad and increasingly maddening filibuster abuse, Democrats could decide to get rid of the procedure altogether. That would be a momentous move, but it isn’t out of the question. And if they did, they could pass a background check bill for President Hillary Clinton to sign.

Yes, a lot of pieces would have to fall into place for that to happen. But even if it doesn’t, chances are we’ll come out of this election with a bunch of senators having paid a price for their alliance with the NRA, and everyone will know it. That in itself would be a major change.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 17, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control, National Rifle Association, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Guns Are Out Of Control”: Some Extremists Fire Guns And Other Extremists Promote Guns

Over the last two decades, Canada has had eight mass shootings. Just so far this month, the United States has already had 20.

Canada has a much smaller population, of course, and the criteria researchers used for each country are slightly different, but that still says something important about public safety.

Could it be, as Donald Trump suggests, that the peril comes from admitting Muslims? On the contrary, Canadians are safe despite having been far more hospitable to Muslim refugees: Canada has admitted more than 27,000 Syrian refugees since November, some 10 times the number the United States has.

More broadly, Canada’s population is 3.2 percent Muslim, while the United States is about 1 percent Muslim — yet Canada doesn’t have massacres like the one we just experienced at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., or the one in December in San Bernardino, Calif. So perhaps the problem isn’t so much Muslims out of control but guns out of control.

Look, I grew up on a farm with guns. One morning when I was 10, we awoke at dawn to hear our chickens squawking frantically and saw a fox trotting away with one of our hens in its mouth. My dad grabbed his .308 rifle, opened the window and fired twice. The fox was unhurt but dropped its breakfast and fled. The hen picked herself up, shook her feathers indignantly and walked back to the barn. So in the right context, guns have their uses.

The problem is that we make no serious effort to keep firearms out of the hands of violent people. A few data points:

■ More Americans have died from guns, including suicides, since just 1970 than died in all the wars in U.S. history going back to the American Revolution.

■ The Civil War marks by far the most savage period of warfare in American history. But more Americans are now killed from guns annually, again including suicides, than were killed by guns on average each year during the Civil War (when many of the deaths were from disease, not guns).

■ In the United States, more preschoolers up through age 4 are shot dead each year than police officers are.

Canada has put in place measures that make it more difficult for a dangerous person to acquire a gun, with a focus not so much on banning weapons entirely (the AR-15 is available after undergoing safety training and a screening) as on limiting who can obtain one. In the United States, we lack even universal background checks, and new Harvard research to be published soon found that 40 percent of gun transfers didn’t even involve a background check.

We can’t prevent every gun death any more than we can prevent every car accident, and the challenge is particularly acute with homegrown terrorists like the one in Orlando. But experts estimate that a serious effort to reduce gun violence might reduce the toll by one-third, which would be more than 10,000 lives saved a year.

The Orlando killer would have been legally barred from buying lawn darts, because they were banned as unsafe. He would have been unable to drive a car that didn’t pass a safety inspection or that lacked insurance. He couldn’t have purchased a black water gun without an orange tip — because that would have been too dangerous.

But it’s not too dangerous to allow the sale of an assault rifle without even a background check?

If we’re trying to prevent carnage like that of Orlando, we need to be vigilant not only about infiltration by the Islamic State, and not only about American citizens poisoned into committing acts of terrorism. We also need to be vigilant about National Rifle Association-type extremism that allows guns to be sold without background checks.

It’s staggering that Congress doesn’t see a problem with allowing people on terror watch lists to buy guns: In each of the last three years, more than 200 people on the terror watch list have been allowed to purchase guns. We empower ISIS when we permit acolytes like the Orlando killer, investigated repeatedly as a terrorist threat, to buy a Sig Sauer MCX and a Glock 17 handgun on consecutive days.

A great majority of Muslims are peaceful, and it’s unfair to blame Islam for terrorist attacks like the one in Orlando. But it is important to hold accountable Gulf states like Saudi Arabia that are wellsprings of religious zealotry, intolerance and fanaticism. We should also hold accountable our own political figures who exploit tragic events to sow bigotry. And, yes, that means Donald Trump.

When Trump scapegoats Muslims, that also damages our own security by bolstering the us-versus-them narrative of ISIS. The lesson of history is that extremists on one side invariably empower extremists on the other.

So by all means, Muslims around the world should stand up to their fanatics sowing hatred and intolerance — and we Americans should stand up to our own extremist doing just the same.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 16, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association, Public Safety | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Asking Trump To Repent”: Rove Horrified Trump Might Not Wage Ad War

There are obviously a lot of Republicans who are publicly and privately upset with how Donald Trump is handling the transition from primary to general-election candidate. Most of them are unhappy with his aggressive support for religious and ethnic profiling and his modeling of prejudice in the Gonzalo Curiel incident.

Leave it to Karl Rove to get mad at Trump for how he’s running his campaign, not what he’s saying.

Specifically, Rove is furious that Trump has disrespected the importance of paid media in presidential campaigns. As someone who has devoted his career to raising and spending megabucks for mostly negative political ads from the day he left the White House, Rove probably regarded Trump’s contempt for this part of politics as blasphemy. So, the Boy Genius repaired to the L’Osservatore Romano of the devotees of the green god of political money, The Wall Street Journal, asking Trump to repent.

Mr. Trump believes that fundraising and TV advertising are overrated. “I just don’t think I need nearly as much money as other people,” he told Bloomberg. “I get so many invitations to be on television.” But consider a hypothetical: Say Hillary Clinton runs a week of TV spots in Tampa/St. Petersburg, a key media market in Florida, and Mr. Trump counters by appearing on cable shows.

Counting only adults, 314,000 viewers might see a Clinton ad during “60 Minutes” on Sunday, according to Nielsen data. Nearly 190,000 would see one during “Dancing With the Stars” on Monday; 248,000 during “NCIS” on Tuesday; and 120,000 during “Hawaii Five-0” on Friday.

Mr. Trump’s appearances on Fox News would reach only a fraction of those numbers: 82,000 adults for a segment on “The O’Reilly Factor” and 61,000 for one on “The Kelly File.” An appearance on CNN’s best-viewed evening program would reach 33,000.

So the moral is clear: Raise the money, run the ads, amen.

But Rove has more heresy to root out. He’s also upset that Trump is offloading the “ground game” to the RNC. Team Clinton, he warns, is prepared to outgun anything the national party can do unless the nominee raises some serious jack to help pay to keep up with the donkeys.

And so:

Mr. Trump’s decisions — to forgo ads, abandon his self-funding pledge and accept a big financial deficit, and turn the ground game over to the RNC — are unprecedented challenges to conventional wisdom. In 21 weeks, we will know if they were smart bets.

It should be noted that Trump’s belief that paid media and money generally are overrated in presidential (as opposed to down-ballot) general elections (as opposed to primaries) is shared by many political scientists, thanks to the massive earned media presidential candidates receive. Because nobody’s ever been better at the earned media game than Trump, it’s hardly surprising he figures that might be his best asset.

But if he’s right, there’s not much of a role in national politics for people like Karl Rove, is there? And that would be blasphemy for sure.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 17, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Advertising, Donald Trump, Karl Rove | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Is Trump’s ‘Campaign’ Just A Scheme To Launch Trump TV?”: Actions Inconsistent With Any Rational Plan To Be President

Donald Trump is the first major-party nominee whose basic motive is the subject of sincere curiosity. Every other figure who secured the nomination of one of the two main governing parties clearly did so as part of a plan to get elected president. It is possible that this is Trump’s plan, too. But it’s also possible that it’s not, which is one of the things that makes his candidacy, or perhaps his “candidacy,” so unusual.

It is increasingly clear that Trump’s actions are inconsistent with any rational plan to become president. He is unpopular on a scale that defies historical precedent, utterly loathed by overwhelming majorities. Some people believed Trump was merely playing the part of a right-wing provocateur in order to stand out from the field and win his party’s nomination, and would “pivot” to the center afterward, but these hopes have been dashed. Trump has only become more hated. Nor is he doing basic tasks required of a nominee. When he was asked to call two dozen major Republican donors, Politico reports, Trump called three of them and then packed it in.

It is entirely possible that Trump is simply in way over his head — he wants to be president but doesn’t know how to go about it, and he trusts his own instincts far too much. The alternate possibility is that he has a different motive. In this scenario, Trump is not completely incompetent, but is shrewdly, or at least rationally, following a plan to enrich or otherwise gratify himself. The trouble has always been discerning what such a plan could be.

Trump’s campaign has not helped his branding business. To the contrary, it seems to be doing enormous damage. He has lost clients already, and will probably continue to do so. If your last name is synonymous with racism and misogyny, you can’t sell your name to golf courses and restaurants, which have dropped him left and right. Being adored by 30 percent of the country and hated by the rest is a recipe unsuited either for winning nationwide office or selling consumer products.

What it could well be is a plan to launch an independent media organ. Sarah Ellison reports that Trump is exploring the possibility of a television or other media venture that would cater to his loyalists. “According to several people briefed on the discussions, the presumptive Republican nominee is examining the opportunity presented by the ‘audience’ currently supporting him,” she writes. “He has also discussed the possibility of launching a ‘mini-media conglomerate’ outside of his existing TV-production business, Trump Productions LLC.” According to Ellison, Trump chafes at the way media have been able to make money off his antics without him getting a cut — a piece of reporting that happens to comport with Trump’s frequent public boasts about the ratings he commands and the money others are making off him.

And if this is Trump’s plan, it makes sense. Perhaps he grasps a truth the official Republican Party has refused to acknowledge: The conservative base is a subculture. It is a numerically large subculture, but a subculture nonetheless. It rejects the moral values of the larger society and wallows within its own imaginary world, in which Barack Obama is a foreign-born agent of anti-American interests, global warming is a lie concocted by greedy scientists or perhaps the Chinese, and hordes of foreigners are rendering the United States unrecognizable. The greater the gulf between the reality perceived by Trump’s supporters and the reality experienced by the rest of the world, the worse for the Republican Party, but all the more profitable for the media that can cater to their delusions. Figures like Rupert Murdoch, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh have grown rich doing so. Trump may have figured out that there’s no reason he should work for them when he can cut out the middleman.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 16, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, Reality Television | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Meatless Mondays”: Republicans’ Fowl Response To The Orlando Terrorist Attack

This is how the sausage is made:

After last weekend’s terrorist attack in Orlando, the people’s representatives in Washington scrambled to counter the growing threat to national security . . . from vegetarianism.

A nearly 15-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats to force action on keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists produced little: They’ll get a vote, but the measure is likely to be defeated by Republicans on Monday.

House GOP leadership, meanwhile, killed a Democratic effort to extend non-discrimination protections for gay people — the demographic targeted in the Orlando shooting.

But the House on Thursday did pass a plan to block the spreading menace to the U.S. military posed by Meatless Mondays.

“I rise to ensure that our men and women in uniform have options on their menu when they seek nutrition in the cafeteria,” Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) proclaimed. “Ideologically motivated activists are working to take meat off the menu in institutions across the country.”

But Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.) had a beef with that argument. “I appreciate the gentleman’s concern about ideological activists attacking the menus at the Department of Defense, but I do trust they will have the intestinal fortitude to resist those particular attacks,” he said. He assured his cattle-state opponent that “there is no policy under consideration to eliminate meat from the nutritional programs for our military services.”

Indeed, a Pentagon spokesman investigating the matter had found no evidence of an anti-meat campaign by Thursday night. But Smith was bullheaded in his advocacy. “Meat contains vitamins and nutrients not readily available in a plant-based diet,” he argued. “In fact, creatine, which supplies energy to muscle cells and aids in their recovery, is only found in animal products.”

The Democrat would not be branded anti-carnivore. “I did have meat at lunch yesterday. I ate meat last night,” he said. But he objected to Republicans, who like to complain about regulatory overreach, attempting to legislate menus.

“Should we start considering whether we should be using diced tomatoes in our various food service areas, or should we do whole tomatoes?” he asked. “Should we, when we serve tuna fish, have chunk white or solid white?”

Thus was the response to the Orlando atrocity. Lawmakers declined to keep guns and explosives out of suspected terrorists’ hands. They refused to extend equal protection to gay Americans. But they bravely repelled an imaginary threat to hamburgers.

Never mind that the Pentagon is attacking neither red meat nor fish nor fowl. The pro-meat forces prevailed in a voice vote.

And this was part of a profoundly depressing reaction to one of the worst mass killings the country has seen. Donald Trump implied that President Obama was in cahoots with the Islamic State and then tweeted an article from a right-wing publication saying the administration “actively supported” the terrorist group.

Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Obama was “directly responsible” for the attack in Orlando, before clarifying that Obama wasn’t “personally responsible.”

In the House, Republicans aped Trump’s anti-immigration histrionics by allowing votes on measures to block the “dreamers” — immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children — from serving in the military. The attempt failed by the thinnest of margins.

GOP leaders refused to vote on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would protect LGBT employees of federal contractors from discrimination. But they allowed an amendment to the same bill that would protect service members from the invented scourge of Meatless Mondays.

“I am not willing to allow activist groups to tell members of our military, who risk their lives to keep us safe, they cannot enjoy a hamburger or steak on certain days of the week,” Smith said in a statement.

On the floor, he noted an “agenda to remove meat” by the U.S. Coast Guard, which has cut meat consumption by cadets at its academy. The Coast Guard wasn’t covered under the defense bill, but Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) still went hog wild. “Our military — we’d starve them for meat? We need them to be aggressive,” he said. He held up a photo of Norwegian troops who, he says, have Meatless Mondays and therefore can’t eat their beloved reindeer meat that day. “Let’s have a strong military,” King said. “Let them have a lot of protein.”

The House vote by itself did not protect the troops from the fanciful threat of creeping vegetarianism. The Senate, in its version of the defense bill, refused to take up a similar amendment by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who spoke of castrating hogs in her famous campaign ad. Ernst said, “The push for Meatless Mondays in our military is misguided.”

But this “push” is bull. The dangers our leaders won’t address — terrorists getting guns, and legal discrimination against gay people — are real.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 17, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, House Republicans, Orlando Shootings, Terrorist Attacks, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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