Following up on a recent New York Times story, Gail Collins discusses Mike Bloomberg's efforts to punish four Democratic senators who voted against the gun background check bill:
... this week, Bloomberg wrote to the thousand biggest Democratic donors in New York and told them not to give the same senators any money....Let's take that last point first. Collins is right that gun reforms might pass if politicians feared gun control supporters the way they fear NRA supporters. But they don't, because they know that even if background checks have 90% support, the 10% in opposition will cast a lot of one-issue votes, and the 90% will barely cast any.
The Democratic leaders are privately double-furious.... They argue, with absolute accuracy, that if the Democrats lose control of the Senate in 2014, there will be no gun bill to vote for, because Mitch McConnell, as majority leader, would never allow one to get to the floor.
And what's the point? The two senators in question who are up for re-election -- [Mark] Pryor [of Arkansas] and Mark Begich of Alaska -- are going to be opposed by Republicans who are even more averse to weapons regulation. Right now it looks as if Begich's opponent will be Joe Miller, a Tea Party stalwart who would be an improvement only to people who believe that the one thing this country needs is to bring back Sarah Palin.
There's one really good argument on Bloomberg's side. Maybe the only way to get serious gun reforms passed in Congress is to convince our elected officials that people who believe in reasonable gun control are as insane as the forces of the National Rifle Association.
And what Bloomberg is doing isn't going to change that. It's top-down -- it's putting pressure on politicians, while doing nothing, or at least nothing likely to be effective, to close the intensity gap.
We know that universal background checks have overwhelming support in red states, and even among NRA members. So why won't supporters reward elected officials who favor the background check bill and punish the bill's opponents?
I don't know. I have a pretty strong hunch that it has to do with tribal affinities and the sense among heartlanders that the NRA is part of their tribe, while the gun control community is alien.
But Bloomberg doesn't seem interested in the answer to this question. And he really doesn't seem interested in the answer to a question that baffles me: So, how do you get heartlanders who favors some gun regulations to question their sense of affinity with the NRA and pro-NRA pols? How do you change their minds?
Bloomberg has run ads chiding the senators -- but, as the Times reported yesterday, Senators Pryor and Begich think they can turn those ads to their advantage:
In response to Mr. Bloomberg's ad, Mr. Pryor filmed his own, in which he adopts a defiant tone. "The mayor of New York City is running ads against me because I opposed President Obama's gun control legislation," Mr. Pryor says in the ad.Well, of course. Because Bloomberg has a massive ego, everyone who's paying attention to this knows that the ads are his work -- and to many heartlanders, rightly or wrongly, no one embodies what's offputting about urbane liberal culture more than Bloomberg.
In an interview, Mr. Begich, who, like Mr. Pryor, faces re-election next year, said he was unbowed by the threat of a Bloomberg-led attack. Indeed, he seemed to almost relish the thought of one.
"In Alaska, having a New York mayor tell us what to do? The guy who wants to ban Big Gulps?" Mr. Begich asked incredulously. "If anything, it might help me," he added.
I don't know what could change the current state of affairs. I'd say it would have to be a long, slow, patient campaign to reduce Middle Americans' distrust of the gun control community (and liberals in general -- yes, on this Bloomberg is seen as a liberal), while also trying to disrupt Middle Americans' sense that the NRA and the gun community are its cultural allies.
That's a hell of an undertaking -- if Wayne LaPierre's rantings since Newtown didn't hurt the NRA's public standing, then the heartland's trust of the gun community is strong. But if it can be done, someone like Mark Kelly is a probably a hell of a lot more likely to get it done than Mike Bloomberg.