The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Donald Trump‘s advisers and other conservative allies are worried that Donald might really actually mean to do something about gun violence this time around. “The president has indicated privately to aides that he wants to be seen taking action,” the Journal claims. His hard-right staff does not want that, because of course they do not, and are looking to block him from doing it.
If all of this feels uncannily familiar, it’s because we’ve been here before. After the Las Vegas mass murder Trump thrashed around insisting that he wanted to, as The Journal repeats here, “be seen as” taking action. (Much like his North Korea overtures, the impetus seems to be the self-promotion of being seen as doing something nobody else could accomplish; what the actual outcome might be is less important.) That time around the most significant “something” was a federal ban on “bump stocks,” but no action to limit a potential mass killer’s access to guns themselves.
Now as then, just because Trump momentarily wants to “be seen as” taking action to prevent mass murders does not mean he will do so, primarily because Donald is not in charge of these things. Donald’s hard-right staff has reliably controlled the actual legislative and regulatory agenda, with Donald himself being hard-pressed to offer more than a few not-necessarily coherent claims about each, and nobody in a position of Republican authority wants to “be seen as” doing a damn thing to limit gun access. The hard-right base would freak All The Way out; whichever Republican did such a thing would be immediately declared to be one of the “globalists” bent on oppressing him.
And, in particular, The Journal reports that Uday Trump is not on board with his papa doing a “something.” Trump Jr. has “raised concerns about both red-flag legislation and about tightening background checks,” two of the most popular incrementalist approaches. Given the Trump clan’s historic reluctance to do anything that would benefit anyone but themselves, we may choose to take this as a concern on Junior’s part that one of the two approaches would put a knot in his own gun ownership.
In any event, Trump‘s campaign team is requesting Trump hold off on proposing any action until they can run the numbers to see which ones would most infuriate his hard-right violence-adjacent base and just how watered-down the “be seen as taking action” plan would have to be in order for the base to stomach it. Trump‘s White House team will undoubtably be attempting to scuttle the whole thing as well, exasperated that Dear Figurehead once again tried to run off on his own, Don Jr. will have his ear and very quickly Donald will get distracted by somebody jingling their keys on Fox News and go off to “be seen as” taking action on something else.
If action is going to be taken to reduce gun violence, it’s going to have to happen in the House and Senate, running Sen. Mitch McConnell up a tree in the process, so that it can be presented to Trump on a silver platter. He might buck his staff on that one, if only because it would be a simple one-signature move and he might enjoy the thrill of watching them scramble.
But anything the White House itself comes up with is going to be filtered through Stephen Miller and other arch-right advisers, and through his campaign team, and they can very easily dissuade Trump from action by noting that his would-be proposals would disproportionately affect the sort of Charlottesville torch-wielders that Donald considers his most valuable base. Putting out press reports that Trump “wants to” take action is a cheap way of pretending at empathy for the most recent victims. If it doesn’t result in any actual action, it is meaningless.