National Rifle Association officials will undoubtedly be watching Tuesday’s CNN debate—though they don’t really need to. The entire GOP field has been unwavering this year in their support of the unrestricted Second Amendment and belief that the only way to curb gun violence in the United States is with more guns. There’s no reason to expect any of the Republicans on the main stage will change their tune tonight.
Of the nine candidates on the Las Vegas main stage, six can boast of receiving an A grade from the NRA in the past: Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have earned A-plus ratings; Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Carly Fiorina have notched As; and John Kasich can lay claim to an A-minus. The senators in that group—Cruz, Rubio, and Paul—all have voted against post-Newtown efforts to restrict access to guns. Bush, meanwhile, can brag of the pro-gun legislation he signed while governor of Florida, including the state’s Stand Your Ground law.
Despite his current good standing with the NRA, Kasich had to work his way back into the warm (and moneyed) embrace of the gun lobby. While serving in Congress during the mid-1990s, Kasich voted to ban the production and sale of 19 semi-automatic assault weapons. That earned him an F from the NRA, which continued to hold a grudge for more than a decade. In the 2010 Ohio gubernatorial race, the group endorsed Kasich’s Democratic rival, who had voted against the ban while also serving in the House. In the years since, though, Kasich has ramped up his gun-rights rhetoric, and now describes the right to bear arms as “an inviolate part of our constitution.”
Since Donald Trump and Ben Carson haven’t run for political office before, as they love to tell you, they don’t have NRA ratings. Trump, though, has a mixed record on guns. In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, the real estate tycoon voiced support for banning some assault weapons and generally tried to stake out some space between conservatives and a liberal straw man. “Democrats want to confiscate all guns, which is a dumb idea because only the law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the bad guys would be the only ones left armed,” he wrote. “The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions.”
But since jumping into the 2016 race, Trump’s taken a hard turn to the right. In the immediate wake of the mass school shooting in Oregon in October, Trump brushed off the very idea of addressing gun violence by suggesting success was impossible. Shortly after, he began to sound like an NRA talking point by explicitly blaming gun restrictions for gun-related deaths, both in Paris and in the United States.
Carson, meanwhile, has had no trouble walking the more-guns-the-better party line. He’s gone as far as to suggest that the Holocaust would have played out differently if the Jews were better armed, and in the wake of the Oregon shooting made it clear where his priorities lay. “There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking,” Carson wrote on Facebook, “but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.”
The only candidate potentially on the edge of the gun lobby’s sweet spot is Chris Christie, though the New Jersey governor has gone to great lengths to shore up his pro-gun resume after he received a C from the NRA during his reelection bid in 2013. The following summer, Christie vetoed an ammunition bill that would have banned magazine clip over 10 rounds and vetoed another gun-control effort opposed by the NRA this summer. “The problem with guns in this country are criminals,” he told New Hampshire voters in September. “Everything we need to make you safer is already on the books, and then some.”
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