Quick: Tell me what President Donald Trump thinks about guns.
Pretty hard to do, right?
On the one hand, he is “the biggest fan of the Second Amendment” and “a big fan of the NRA.”
On the other, Trump, in a meeting with members of Congress on Wednesday, repeatedly pushed for a broad and comprehensive package of gun reforms – many of which the NRA opposes.
On the one hand, Trump had face-to-face meetings with the top brass of the NRA twice this week. After a Thursday night get-together, Trump tweeted: “Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!” Chris Cox, the head of the NRA’s lobbying arm, tweeted of the meeting: “POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.”
On the other, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Friday morning that nothing had changed in Trump’s positions following the Thursday night meeting with the NRA and everything Trump said about gun reforms in the meeting Wednesday was still operative.
So, which is it? Neither? Both? Some of one and some of the other?
The honest answer is no one knows.
The interesting question to me amid all of the swirl and contradiction is this: Is the lack of clarity from Trump on what he stands for – and what he’d be willing to fight with Congress for – on guns intentional? Or is it, like so much else with Trump, just chaos and unpredictability for the sake of chaos and unpredictability?
Let’s take the first option, um, first.
What we know – or we think we know – about Trump on guns is that he wants something comprehensive that deals with improving the current background check system and maybe even tightening it some. He also wants to get rid of bump fire stocks, which he has promised to do via executive order.
Being unwilling to be pinned down on specifics could be a smart strategy. After all, past attempts by presidents to take the lead on gun control reforms – I’m thinking of Barack Obama in the wake of Sandy Hook, in particular – have largely failed. Why not let Congress figure out what it can hope to pass rather than trying to dictate – down to the specific proposal – what you want done? Lay out your general priorities and let them figure out the details.
It could work.
But, I strongly suspect that’s not what Trump is doing here. Instead, i think his broad position on guns – as well as his more specific thoughts – are broadly unformed.
He knows the Second Amendment and the NRA matter a ton in Republican politics. And/but, he relishes the idea of being a dealmaker and getting stuff done on big issues that his predecessors couldn’t (Note how many times in that Wednesday meeting Trump pointed out how Obama hadn’t been able to get anything done on guns).
That push-pull – combined with the fact that Trump simply doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of deeply-held beliefs about guns (or much of anything else) – puts us in a situation like the one we’ve witnessed this week.
Pinning Trump down on what he believes and what must go in any sort of congressional bill in response to the murders in Parkland, Florida is like trying to grab Jell-O. Just when you think you’ve got it, it slips away.
The result – at least at the moment – of Trump’s yo-yoing views is that members of Congress have very little sense of how much he cares (or doesn’t) about getting something big-ish done on guns and/or what that something should be.
Like I said, Trump could be playing possum here in an attempt to force the hand of Congress to act without feeling as though they had to adhere directly to every wish of the President.
But, if past is prologue, he’s not. Instead, he’s just saying stuff, with little regard as to whether it contradicts or calls into questions something he said the day, week or month before.
All of which means that talk of gun legislation could follow the same blueprint as that of immigration: Lots of big but vague talk from Trump followed by not much of anything.