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Election 2016

Ted Cruz May Have Just Stepped into a Fight That Is Dividing NRA Members

His newest foreign policy advisor, Frank Gaffney, is a key player in the effort to remove Grover Norquist from the organization's board.

Ted Cruz named Frank Gaffney his foreign policy advisor on Thursday, a move that threatens to involve the Republican presidential contender in a contentious fight to get the party’s most prominent anti-tax advocate kicked off the National Rifle Association’s board.

Gaffney once worked for President Ronald Reagan’s Department of Defense and now runs the Center for Security Policy, a hyper-conservative think tank that promulgates theories about a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to infiltrate the U.S. government. The Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed Gaffney “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.” For years, he has also worked to take down an unlikely target: Republican superstar and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist.

Norquist is best known for browbeating GOP lawmakers into signing “The Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which contractually requires them to resist tax increases of almost any sort. But as The Trace reported in February, he also serves on the board of the NRA, and at the moment he is the subject of a recall effort spearheaded by Tea Party icon Glenn Beck. To make his case to his followers, many of whom are affiliated with the NRA, Beck has primarily relied on distorted evidence gathered by Gaffney.

The gist of Beck and Gaffney’s beef with Norquist is an assertion that the latter has ties to Islamist extremists, which is a considerable distortion of reality. In the 1990s, Norquist started an organization called the Islamic Free Market Institute (IFMI), with the goal of spreading free market ideas to the Middle East. At times, he crossed paths with some people later identified as extremists — evidence, according to Beck and Gaffney, that Norquist has conspired with people who want to harm America.

Beck’s feud with Norquist dates to at least 2013, and he has advocated since then to boot the anti-tax advocate from the NRA’s board. A recall effort, led by Beck, is well underway, and a heated debate has broken out among the organization’s members. On the popular firearms enthusiast website Ammoland, there have been posts defending Norquist, and others calling for his dismissal. In February, one commenter wrote, “The NRA better press the issue … or it will lose tons of members, myself included!” 

Whether Gaffney’s involvement in the internecine NRA battle has implications for Cruz remains to be seen, but at minimum it promises to make potential conversations with senior NRA members — and Norquist himself — more complicated.

Cruz has sought to position himself as the most pro-gun candidate in the election. Yet by hiring Gaffney, Cruz may anger a number of long-serving NRA board members, including David Keene, the organization’s president from 2011 to 2013, who have made public statements against the effort to recall Norquist.

Cruz could also lose the support of a man who is a natural ally. In April, on his campaign site, the Republican candidate announced that he had signed Norquist’s pledge. As president, the press release read, “he will oppose and veto any all efforts to increase taxes.” The release quoted Norquist, who referred to Cruz as a “strong and consistent advocate for taxpayers.”

[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]