The Slatest

Today in Conservative Media: Here’s What Trump Really Meant on Gun Control (We Hope)

President Trump address the National Rifle Association (NRA) Leadership Forum in Atlanta, Georgia on April 28, 2017.
President Trump address the National Rifle Association (NRA) Leadership Forum in Atlanta, Georgia on April 28, 2017. Jim Watson/Getty Images

Today in Conservative Media is a daily roundup of the biggest stories in the right-wing press.

On Wednesday, President Trump bear-hugged the third rail of Republican politics: gun control.
During a freewheeling televised meeting with congressional leaders, Trump appeared to back a raft of gun control measures in response to the Parkland school shooting that would have gotten a Republican politician primaried from the right under normal circumstances. The blowback from GOP quarters was swift. On Thursday, Republicans were still parsing Trump’s comments trying to figure out just how they feel about it.

Hayley Byrd at the Weekly Standard surveyed the GOP and rounded up “gobsmacked” Republican responses to Trump’s gun control comments. In some cases, outrage seemed to have eroded into disbelief. “I don’t think that he was saying that there’s a place where you suspend the Constitution and suspend due process. I just don’t believe that,” said North Carolina’s Sen. Thom Tillis. “I know you heard the words. I just don’t believe in my heart of hearts that’s exactly what he meant.” This, in many ways, is a continuation of the GOP “don’t take Trump literally” theme when he says outlandish, unjustifiable, or just plain false things. For a reminder of how far outside the Republican orthodoxy Trump’s gun comments were, Byrd writes: “A senior GOP Senate aide told TWS that Republicans would have been ‘apoplectic’ if Obama had said half of what Trump said during the meeting.”

Guy Benson at Townhall reminds readers that Trump’s reality TV gun governance “could be a rerun of the Great White House Listening Session on DACA” where Trump basically agreed with everyone in the room, no matter which party, and then walked back the politically sticky parts later. Is that where we’re headed again? Trump did a bit of hedging Thursday morning, but it would be hard to read it as a presidential pirouette.

There is a line of thinking in conservative media, expressed by National Review’s David French, that Trump was inarticulately articulating his support for a more acceptable form of gun control to the GOP: the gun-violence restraining order (GVRO). 

French outlined why the right should engage with GVROs seriously in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland shooting. “[Gun-violence restraining orders] permit a spouse, parent, sibling, or person living with a troubled individual to petition a court for an order enabling law enforcement to temporarily take that individual’s guns right away,” French wrote in National Review two weeks ago. “The great benefit of the GVRO is that it provides citizens with options other than relying on, say, the FBI … Let’s empower the people who have the most to lose, and let’s place accountability on the lowest possible level of government: the local judges who consistently and regularly adjudicate similar claims in the context of family and criminal law.”

“This proposal to keep guns out of the hands of verifiably troubled individuals, with a due process system in place to adjudicate potential unjust denials of rights, is a reasonable idea that at least merits real debate,” Townhall’s Benson reasons. “Whether Trump has ever remotely heard of or thought through GVRO’s, I have no idea. But he may have hit on a decent proposal, even if accidentally.”

Finally, Alexandra DeSanctis at National Review dissects Trump’s gun comments and finds not that Trump is a closeted Democrat, but something we all kind of knew all along: Donald Trump believes in nothing in particular. “[Trump’s] remarks at this meeting were intensely revealing precisely because they showed once again that Trump is almost wholly devoid of core beliefs,” DeSanctis writes. “What Trump says and does is nearly always some synthesis of whatever he thinks will enable him to achieve the end he wants at any given time. And that end seems rarely to be dictated by firm principles or even a consistent policy agenda.”

Many conservatives, DeSanctis explains, rationalized that “Trump would be a vehicle for conservatism,” even if he didn’t always sound like one. “Since Trump has been in office, proponents of this view have been able to point to conservative policy victories as evidence that they were correct,” she writes. “And they were, at least in the sense that Trump would act as a vehicle, but they may have failed to fully consider the equally important question, ‘A vehicle for what?’ ”

“The idea that Trump would be an acceptable, albeit imperfect vessel only works insofar as you know he will always remain a vessel for the things you want to accomplish,” DeSanctis continues. “There was never much indication that Trump would always stick to the conservative side. Today is one of the most obvious examples of this.” So, Trump is the same Trump he’s always been, but what does this mean for the future? DeSanctis wonders: “If Trump is already caving on gun control now—or, at least, for the moment—dare we imagine what he’ll do if he’s forced in the latter half of his term to work with a Democratic congress?”