As if there were any question as to which presidential candidate it would back, the National Rifle Association announced Friday afternoon at the group’s annual convention that it’s endorsing Donald Trump. “Now is the time to unite,” said the executive director of the group’s lobbying arm, Chris Cox, shortly before Trump took the mic. “If your preferred candidate dropped out of the race, it’s time to get over it.”
Trump’s allegiance to gun rights has been spotty. He once expressed strong support for an assault-weapons ban and criticized politicians who “walk the NRA line.” Of course, he’s changed his mind since he got into politics, and that’s enough for the NRA. The group, as divisive as any in American politics, was never going to endorse a Democrat like Hillary Clinton, who unambiguously supports gun control. Bernie Sanders, whom Clinton has targeted for voting against background checks and other gun-control measures, is nevertheless strongly opposed by the NRA.
The Kentucky NRA meeting was an opportunity for Trump to “reassure wary conservatives” worried about his record, as NBC put it Friday. In his speech, Trump repeated lines he’s honed over the course of the campaign. He invoked the “good guy with a gun” trope, arguing that an armed citizenry could have stopped the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Paris. The latter “might not have happened” if the attackers knew people were armed, Trump said. The “carnage would not have been the same by any stretch of the imagination.” In a bizarre coincidence, just as Trump wrapped up his speech, a shooting was reported outside the White House.
Trump did not sound defensive as he asserted his bona fides; he spoke as though he has always expressed full support for gun rights. Back in February, Ted Cruz knocked Trump and his fellow senator, Marco Rubio, for “previously support[ing] banning firearms,” which the Trump campaign denied. Cruz would probably be pained to hear some of the praise Trump got Friday. Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, said Trump “offers a very different White House and a far more hopeful nation.”
The Democratic candidates, on the other hand, would loathe to get the NRA’s backing. Clinton in particular has made shootings like the one at Sandy Hook elementary school central to her gun-control message and has campaigned with mothers who lost their children to gun violence.
Clinton seemed to be on speakers’ minds Friday. Cox called her corrupt and hypocritical, as she herself is protected by a security detail. Trump, too, offered some of his typical criticism. “Crooked Hillary Clinton is the most anti-gun, anti-Second-Amendment candidate ever to run for office,” he said.