Skip to main content

GOP, ready to turn your back on NRA?

By Joe McLean, Special to CNN
updated 6:37 PM EDT, Thu May 2, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Joe McLean: The NRA has bought many elections with massive spending
  • McLean: But Americans are finally fed up and seem to be cooling toward the NRA
  • He says some senators who voted down background checks saw a hit in approval ratings
  • McLean: More politicians may change their minds if they lose support for opposing gun control

Editor's note: Joe McLean, senior partner at McLean/Clark LLC, is a political consultant. He worked on Barack Obama's campaign for the U.S. Senate.

(CNN) -- On Wednesday, former President Bill Clinton delivered the first of a series of lectures on public service at his alma mater, Georgetown University. When questioned by a student on the failure of the legislation on gun background check in the Senate, Clinton spoke in parables.

"You know that old story about, the problem with a cat that sits on a hot stove is that cat will never sit on a hot stove again, but also it will never sit on a cold stove. I think this is a cold stove," Clinton mused.

Like most parables, the message was clear. For the past 30 years, the NRA has bought many elections with massive spending and grass-roots campaigns. No candidate who has ever been scorched on the NRA's stove wants to get burned again, so they cower in the corner. Politicians quake in fear whenever CEO Wayne LaPierre threatens hellfire and brimstone upon any apostate with the temerity to question the NRA's gospel of the gun.

Joe McLean
Joe McLean

But America is finally fed up. New surveys by Public Policy Polling and Quinnipiac University confirm Clinton's view that the public has cooled to the NRA.

Several senators who voted against background checks have taken hits in their approval ratings. From February to April, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's overall approval rating dropped 8%. In Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman's rating went down 9% since October. And Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada saw his rating go down 3% since October/November. Alarmingly, for the NRA, this show of disapproval is happening in red states that should be gun rights strongholds.

Being on the wrong side of history can be painful. Today's more tea-flavored GOP politicians find themselves badly positioned on guns. Their ideological rigidity on immigration reform, marriage equality, reproductive rights, Wall Street reform and numerous other hot-button issues is unpopular.

When you factor in the outrage over gun violence, Republicans -- who seem inextricably bound to the NRA in the public's mind -- are under the gun.

This week, in a town hall meeting, New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who voted down background checks, was confronted by the new political reality up close and personal. Erica Lafferty, whose mother, Dawn Hochsprung, was the principal at Sandy Hook and among the first to be gunned down, asked Ayotte, "You had mentioned that day the burden on owners of gun stores that the expanded background checks would harm. I am just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't more important than that."

Ayotte defended her vote. But questions like the one Lafferty asked won't go away.

Gun vote follows senators home

We will see how the gun issue plays out on the national stage in the coming months. If senators lose support because they refuse to give way to some gun control regulations, we may see some changes of heart.

This has certainly been the case in the debate over immigration reform. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to bring the matter to the floor again in light of the popular support for immigration reform. It's possible that we may even see a background check bill come back to the Senate later in the year. Of course, the gerrymandered House is quite another matter.

So finally, the heat may be on the NRA for a change. And for the senators who voted against background checks, it looks like they've jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

As usual, Bill Clinton saw it coming.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Joe McLean.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT