The National Rifle Association is vowing to defend Donald Trump from “the forces who conspired” against his candidacy.
The new president “will need every ounce of energy we can muster,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre declares in an ad released this week. “And he has no more powerful ally than the NRA.”
The ad begins with an ominous score and apocalyptic imagery, including shots of angry protesters and video footage of a random fire captured by Russia Today, the Kremlin-sponsored TV network. There are text cards that read, “We won the battle. They couldn’t handle it. So they started a war.” There is a soundbite from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who says the words “a white supremacist” — not in reference to Trump, as is implied, but about Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist.
On Twitter, the video was accompanied by the hashtag #counterresistence, marking the start of the NRA’s latest messaging campaign.
“Wayne LaPierre leads the fight,” viewers are informed toward the end of the video, followed by a plug for LaPierre’s upcoming speech at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, which will stream on NRATV.
The “counter resistance” banner is an update to a narrative the NRA has deployed for decades, as the gun rights group has sought to cast itself as a leader not just on Second Amendment issues, but more broadly as a defender of American freedom. What is different now is how closely the NRA’s broader agenda, which leans heavily on fears of violent crime, illegal immigration, and terrorism, aligns with that of the current administration.
Never before in the NRA’s history has the group so openly boasted about its close relationship with a president, and never before has a president been so eager to openly embrace his close relationship with the NRA. Even President George W. Bush, a staunch defender of gun rights, sought to put distance between himself and the organization after an executive was caught on tape bragging about exceptionally close ties to the administration.
But as with so much else with Trump, conventional wisdom no longer holds. The NRA proudly endorsed his presidential bid when no other major conservative organization would, and then proceeded to spend over $30 million—more than any other outside group—to help catapult him into the Oval Office. Along the way, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, was given a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention, a first. And now Cox has been assigned the duty of introducing Vice President Mike Pence at CPAC on Thursday.
The NRA clearly sees the Trump presidency as a chance to go on the offensive. At the federal level, for example, the group is lobbying to deregulate silencers and pushing legislation that would make a concealed-carry permit obtained in one state valid in all states.
Those priorities, however, are likely to take a backseat to more pressing objectives of the administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, including healthcare and tax reform. Appointing itself leader of the “counter resistance” may be a way for the NRA to maintain its voice, and keep its five million claimed members mobilized, at a time when the group’s ideology is ascendant and the risk of new, national gun regulations is practically nonexistent. In simpler terms, it may represent a bid for increased influence in the rightwing movement that has now dominates the Republican party and American conservatism. While only 22 percent of U.S. residents own guns, according to the definitive survey on the subject, polls show Trump’s approval rating averaging 45 percent.
The extent to which the NRA advises the president on matters of policy, and how much it is benefiting from its relationship with the White House, remains opaque. But a recent White House meeting was telling: On February 1, a day after Neil Gorsuch was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, Trump and LaPierre sat next to each other at a meeting of conservative leaders in the Roosevelt Room. The president asked each person present to introduce him or herself, and then singled out LaPierre with a flattering comment that acknowledged the NRA leader’s influence in conservative circles.
“Wayne,” Trump said, “I would say they know you. Perhaps they know you better than they know me.”
[Photo: NRA Youtube video]