Two Debacles in 12 Hours
Why today was a very bad day to be Republican.
The NRA response is a different matter. The NRA has been far more successful at working the system than House Republicans. So, as Dave Weigel points out, Wayne LaPierre was backing a position on Friday that at least has the popularity of the assault weapons ban the president is pushing. This Gallup poll asked Americans how to prevent the next massacre. Sixty-four percent wanted “at least one person” at every school to be armed, and 87 percent were open to more “police presence” at schools.
But the question at hand is whether the defiant tone of the NRA event will be as popular as those policies. For most people, the post-Newtown public conversation has had some element of self-reflection. The president, NRA-supporting politicians, and Hollywood have all taken a step back and examined their views. Most have recognizing that they need to at least modify their positions in some ways. Even if no one changes their tune ultimately, the participants have at least nodded to the possibility that a decent respect for the opinions of others requires sensitivity to opposing positions.
The NRA did not go this route. It was calling for a conversation but it was starting an argument. LaPierre blamed culture—movies, video games, and music—for a mass shooting but wasn’t willing to even brush up against considering what role guns might play.
That is where the interests of the NRA and the GOP separate. A full-throated argument with President Obama helps the NRA by riling up its members who write big checks. This, in turn, provides money to keep lawmakers in line.
For a national party so closely aligned with the NRA, this poses a challenge. Right now its leaders are trying to send the message of inclusiveness in all forms. The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections. Something has to change. The precise road back to the majority is not clear. But as a matter of basic math, it's pretty clear that the party must show that it is open: open to ideas, new people (i.e., minorities who are growing as a larger share of the voting population), and the new challenges of our daily lives.
Holding more firmly to your views despite new circumstances can offer stability, but it also opens you up to looking remote, unconcerned, and out of touch. To those who might think you hail from another planet, it helps to speak to them in their language. That language requires a conversation, not an argument.
It is a virtue to stay true to your principles. But the great patron saint of conservatism, Ronald Reagan, knew that you had to do it in a way that didn’t offend people. Reagan had plenty of critics, to be sure. Clark Clifford famously called him an amiable dunce, but even that cheap shot allowed for the fact that he was amiable. There is nothing amiable in these recent public stands by conservatives. It can’t be true that a party returns to national greatness on an anti-amiable platform.