This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 22
- Biden’s polling hits new lows
- Can gun control save the Democrats?
- Greitens’ Senate candidacy is not dead yet
Gun Control: President Joe Biden has now reached the lowest approval rating of any president in the history of polling for this time of his presidency. That is the verdict of the Gallup poll, and it is hardly alone in its grim outlook.
A new Emerson College poll puts Biden at a 38% approval rating. A recent University of Massachusetts Amherst poll similarly finds him with a 38% rating, with massive drop offs in every demographic group. A poll by Reuters has him at 36% approval.
It is in this context that Biden is now turning to a new issue — and a risky one to be certain. The tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, has presented a new opportunity that he has seized, to popularize the issue of gun control. This is something Democrats have only occasionally succeeded in doing over the last 40 years.
It goes without saying that gun control solutions are generally not responsive to the problems they propose to solve. But this is not a question about the policy — we raise it only because it is a question about a political tactic and how it will affect the next election.
This is well within Biden’s wheelhouse –a traditional democratic modus operandi with a story tradition that goes back even before the infamous Columbine massacre. But will it work?
The gun control issue is a difficult one to understand because the media have been so appallingly incapable of grasping its dynamic. This is largely because they have a left-wing, pro gun control agenda. They find it difficult to acknowledge that one’s well-meaning quest to make the world better can actually be just a personal power trip with no logical coherence.
At the moment when new national gun control laws seemed most likely — after the Sandy Hook massacre — gun control laws failed, and the party that voted against them won a huge victory in the next election. This is not because of some gun-manufacturers lobby or a powerful shadowy lobbying group, but rather because grassroots organizations like the NRA mobilize their voters against it. It’s really just as simple as that — voting against gun control is more popular in a very large number of states and districts than is voting for it.
One of the main reasons is that gun-control advocates’ solutions are very rarely responsive to the problems they purport to solve. For example, President Biden is now talking about banning high caliber weapons, whereas the recent school massacre, like many others, was carried out with a low-caliber AR-15-style rifle, the most popular type of rifle in America. This is very similar to the manner in which even though gun crime is overwhelmingly committed with handguns, the first thing politicians talk about when discussing it is a ban on some of kind of rifle. This is just one reason why the gun control issue has no traction. The people who want to make all the rules don’t even understand the problem, let alone possess constructive ideas that would count as solutions.
Political fallout: What does that mean in the coming midterm election? First of all, there are going to be a few extremely competitive and critical Senate races in several states where large number of voters are single-mindedly in favor of gun rights. This includes Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Arizona, and Nevada. Biden is returning to an old Democratic issue, but the apt analogy is the moth that keeps returning to the flame. That is especially true given his own approval rating and the Republicans’ lead on the congressional generic ballot poll. Some stances are unpopular; some politicians can make anything unpopular just by adopting it.
Second, it has to be remembered that the gun rights movement is a movement of voters, not of deep-pocketed companies and donors. It is a genuinely grassroots phenomenon. This is why, even with the actual National Rifle Association in shambles, the NRA endorsement means something in every primary and general election. Millions of people bring NRA voter guides to the polls and vote for all the endorsed candidates up and down the ballot, because they fear having their gun rights taken away.
Biden may succeed in turning persuadable voters with the shattering, tragic images from Uvalde. But he may instead just be poking the beehive here. The act of mobilizing an opponent’s voters is a poor choice.
History: Consider what happened after Sandy Hook. Congress came as close as it ever has to passing permanent gun control measures in early 2013. The 45 senators who voted against the package and blocked it in the Senate, we were told, were doomed. But in fact, only five were subsequently defeated for re-election — three of them Democrats who lost to pro-gun Republicans the following year (Sens. Mark Pryor, Heidi Heitkamp, and Mark Begich). It is also debatable whether gun control played a major role in the campaigns of the two Republicans who subsequently lost (Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Dean Heller).
Within two years of Sandy Hook, gun control went from its zenith as an issue to its nadir. In the 2014 midterm election, gun-rights candidates completely ran the table at the state and federal level. They not only built the largest congressional majority favoring gun rights in contemporary history, but they also set the stage for a round of new state open-carry laws and other rules relaxing government control over gun ownership and possession.
That doesn’t mean that Biden’s stab at gun control cannot work. It does mean that it has never really worked before on a grand scale since the dawn of the modern mass-shooting era in 1998.
What’s more, the public’s understanding of the incident in Uvalde in already changing less than a week later. As a growing chorus faults the police response to the Uvalde shooting instead of singing the Democratic siren song of gun control, expect to see a lot of Democratic candidates move themselves away from this issue. It could take a couple of weeks.
Georgia: Last week’s primaries were significant in that candidates hated and verbally assaulted by former President Trump won. Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger both won easily, in spite of Trump’s intense hatred for and vocal opposition to both. Trump had personally recruited former Sen. David Perdue to run against Trump, but he was obliterated by a margin of 50 points, much wider than anyone believed before election day.
The lesson? In Georgia — a Republican-leaning state that was never terribly keen on Trump — Trump’s endorsement is not worth much. On the other hand, this does not necessarily apply in other states. In some places, Trump’s endorsement has already settled contested races and even created lopsided outcomes.
Georgia: Herschel Walker won his primary easily, as expected.
Missouri: Here is one race where Trump’s intervention would probably be welcomed, provided he has been altogether talked out of the idea of endorsing disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens. Reports of Greitens’s political death were exaggerated, it turns out. And if he wins the nomination, Republicans have a serious chance of losing an easily Republican seat, narrowly led the Republican field in two recent polls this month (with 26 percent in each case) for this open-seat Senate race.
Although Attorney General Eric Schmitt led in a third poll, suggesting that a Greitens win is not inevitable, this serves as a reminder to the entire field that their state party needs to unite around someone else by August, or die. Republicans have faced this same problem for months, but no one has budged. The only thing that has changed so far is that Greitens no longer polls above 30 percent, so that’s some progress.
It could be central Missouri U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (who has at times led) or Schmitt, or someone else, but it has to be someone. Former President Trump has not endorsed in this race, but he has praised Rep. Billy Long, who nonetheless languishes in single digits in every poll taken since last June.