AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File
The 2020 campaign field is growing quickly. Everyone from former vice presidents to mayors of towns of 122,000 people is running for a shot at President Donald Trump.
More and more, though, the candidates are embracing gun control rhetoric as they seek to distance themselves from the pack.
Democratic presidential hopefuls are embracing gun control as the 2020 campaign accelerates, deepening the divide in U.S. politics between rural areas with a rich gun culture and urban and suburban areas where the mood has turned in favor of tougher laws.
Bolstered by shifting public sentiment, the candidates are increasingly championing gun limits including universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons. The shift follows high-profile mass shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada, and comes as the National Rifle Association’s political influence wanes.
Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders, who previously dismissed calls for tougher firearms restrictions, is now promising to “move aggressively” to combat gun violence, telling a crowd in Wisconsin this month that if he’s elected president, “people who should not have guns will not have guns.” Other top contenders — including California Senator Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke — are also running on toughening gun laws.
While reading that, I was struck with a question: Is public sentiment shifting on guns?
Let’s take a look at the evidence for a moment.
First, there’s polling that suggests the American public is now ready for gun control. In the past, polls were always reliable measures of public sentiment, so that should suggest they are now.
Only, they’re not.
Back in 2016, the polls all told us that Brexit was going to fail in the UK. They were horribly, horribly wrong.
In 2018, the polls told us that Hillary Clinton was a slam dunk to be president. How did that go again?
There have been a number of other examples as well. Polling says one thing but what we see is yet another. As a result, the idea of using polling as the ultimate in reliability is probably not the best move available.
“But the midterm elections!”
Ah, yes. The midterms. The much-vaunted midterm elections that were going to be a massive blue wave that would take Congress from the clutches of the GOP and deliver them straight into the hands of the Democrats.
What happened was nothing of the sort.
The 2018 midterm elections did hand the House over to the Democrats, sure, but their gains were relatively modest. Further, they lost ground in the Senate. Much of that may have had to do with the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, of course, at least with the Senate.
But the truth is that historically, the president’s party loses ground in Congress. Both Chambers. And the Democrats’ gains were about average for a midterm, despite President Trump’s low approval rating at the time.
In other words, neither of these should be seen as reliable metrics that the American public supports gun control.
Not that it’ll stop Democrats from pushing for it. In a crowded field, the candidates seem to be committed to shifting further and further to the left. That’s not surprising. Bernie Sanders and his success in 2016 undoubtedly signaled that the party wanted that leftward swing. I have little doubt that anti-gun rhetoric will pay well during primary season, and that will likely beget still more anti-gun rhetoric.
But the primaries end, and then the general election begins.
That’s when things get interesting.
You see, the party may be shifting leftward on things like guns, among other things, but whether or not the American people will shift leftward enough to embrace the rhetoric is a different matter entirely. Further, even those who do support gun control may find themselves uncomfortable with the socialist policies being presented by these candidates. It’s unlikely gun control alone would lure these voters to the candidate’s camp.
Their push for gun control–especially the radical measures being discussed by people like Eric Swalwell and Kamala Harris–may just as easily destroy their presidential dreams.