A GOP state senator from Nebraska named John McCollister stuck his neck out after the mass gun murders in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio last weekend and said that his party is “enabling white supremacy in our country” and that “the Republican Party is COMPLICIT to obvious racist and immoral activity inside our party.” Then he posted a picture of our 16th president on Twitter and wrote: “We all like to cite Abraham Lincoln’s Republican lineage when it is politically expedient but NOW is the time to ACT like Lincoln and take a stand.”
His thanks for this was to be disowned by Nebraska’s Republican Party.
— NEGOP (@NEGOP) August 5, 2019
If you have trouble reading that letter, here’s the text:
“John McCollister has been telegraphing for years that he has little if nothing in common with the Republican voters in his district by consistently advocating for higher taxes, restrictions on American’s Second Amendment rights, and pro-abortion lobby,” Nebraska Republican Party Executive Director Ryan Hamilton said in a statement. “His latest false statement about Republicans should come as no surprise to anyone who is paying attention, and we’re happy he has finally shed all pretense of being a conservative.”
I have no idea if Sen. McCollister will switch parties or even if the Democrats would welcome him. But if the Republican Party’s organization in Nebraska is concerned about the influence the president’s rhetoric and policies are having on the murder rate in this country, they definitely aren’t going to let it show. Open signs of internal dissent are immediately guillotined.
In recent weeks, I’ve been writing somewhat incessantly about the Democrats taking needless risks with their suburban base, but the Republicans are right to be worried that the gun issue will lead them into suburban extinction. Public opinion outside of their small town and rural strongholds has turned:
Voters in 2018 favored stricter gun control by a margin of 22 percentage points, and those who did backed Democrats by a margin of 76% to 22%, according to exit polls. Gun policy ranked as the No. 4 concern, and voters who cited it as their top issue voted Democrat by a margin of 70% to 29%.
With many fewer suburban seats in Republican hands, the party is largely immune to this shift on an individual basis, but collectively it’s enough of a problem that they seem to wish they could respond to it. Yet, according to Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman of Politico’s Playbook, they can’t:
REPUBLICANS will say privately that they know they are on the wrong side of contemporary political thinking — and reality — when it comes to gun policy. Many of them will say off the record or on background that they could get away with supporting banning assault weapons, banning high-capacity magazines and tightening background checks. But they need Trump to embrace these ideas as well — and consistently. The president tends to pop his head up, support something and then retreat.
What’s good for the party as a whole is not necessarily good for the president. He’d face a loss of faith from many of his most ardent supporters if he signed a bill banning assault weapons, and even enhanced background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines would dampen enthusiasm for him with many people in his base. He certainly can’t afford a drop-off in turnout in rural areas. Trump’s strategy depends on them turning out in droves and voting overwhelmingly to reelect him.
And that raises the question of whether the Republicans would truly be better off if gun legislation passed. It might help them get more of a hearing in the suburbs, but if the cost is that Trump is beaten, especially if he is beaten badly, then they could lose the most important power center that they have.
This is all highly speculative in any case, because if I understand Trump’s reelection strategy correctly, there is no way in hell that he’ll sign a bill restricting guns. At most, he might agree to do something cosmetic, but he’ll probably tie it to some immigration reforms that are a non-starter with Democrats and watch the effort die.
Trump knows that winning the popular vote is probably out of his reach. His goal is to win rural counties in key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin with close to 80 percent of the vote. To accomplish this, he needs white voters in these all-white, Rust Belt, small population counties to behave like whites in the Deep South, where the Republican Party is considered the white party and the Democratic Party is considered the black and brown party. If he succeeds, he can do even worse than last time in the suburbs and also withstand higher turnout in the cities. It’s like gambling on being dealt two inside straights in a row, but the one thing I know is that he doesn’t believe he has a better option.
For the same reason that he says there are “good people” among the white nationalists who are murdering innocent Americans with increasing regularity (to signal that his party is the party for white people) he also won’t take measures that will disappoint and demobilize his shock soldiers. They don’t want to be disarmed, so Trump is not going to disarm them. They don’t want to be inconvenienced or limited in their arms purchases, so he won’t inconvenience them. He wants them 100 percent on board and he doesn’t feel like he can risk anything less.
In the meantime, he will take every opportunity to fight back against the browning of America and to act as the defender of traditional rural white culture. When he talks about the Democrats, he will almost always talk about minority members, including some Jews, because this reminds his base which side they’re on. If he convinces these communities to vote in a bloc out of perceived racial self-interest, he can win in formerly blue states for the same reason that the Democrats cannot win statewide in Mississippi despite it having the largest black population by percentage in the country. He’s racializing the electorate by design, but gun culture and evangelical religion also play key parts.
For Republicans like John McCollister of Nebraska who are not on board with this strategy, they are invited to leave the party. Many voters will make that move themselves, but Trump is banking on the fact that he can drive up his rural white vote to such a high level that it won’t matter.
For the Democrats, they have to bank the extra suburban votes on offer, because if they fail to do that Trump just might succeed in getting reelected.