CSMONITOR.COM October 11, 2019 – The National Rifle Association is facing its share of problems. Allegations of corruption and mismanagement have rocked the advocacy group, and in this week’s cover story Simon Montlake profiles the man determined to take it on. America’s gun owners deserve better, the insurgent says.
subtext for Simon’s story – the very reason we wrote the story in the first
place, really – is the remarkable influence that the NRA has wielded in
American politics during the past 25 years. In exploring the reasons behind
that influence, you find a lesson on the evolution of American politics – and
why it is only now that the NRA’s clout might be waning.
is, the NRA was perfectly calibrated to take advantage of shifts in how
Americans vote. Swing voters have largely disappeared. American voters are now
reliably sorted into left-of-center and right-of-center camps on issues across
the board. This means the true power in American politics is in motivating your
partisans to turn out, not spending time wooing declining numbers of people in
the mushy middle.
one adopted this approach earlier or more aggressively than the NRA. The
group’s ability to motivate and mobilize voters – often by fanning existential
fears about the future of the Second Amendment – made it one of the most
powerful lobbying groups in Washington. It also increasingly became sewn into
the political playbook, first on the right, and now increasingly on the left.
Litmus tests to prove partisan purity rose in importance, and those who fell
afoul were increasingly subject to robust primary challenges.
James Madison predicted in his Federalist Papers, factions give rise to
counterfactions with their own purity tests. Others are learning the lessons of
the NRA. Especially in the wake of several school shootings, there is some
evidence that gun control groups are gaining traction by using the same method
– seeking to generate an equally passionate fervor among their supporters.
Madison’s hope that relatively small groups of elected representatives would cool this fervor by making decisions on behalf of voters has largely vanished. It started disappearing almost the moment the republic was founded, with the Electoral College becoming a rubber stamp for the state vote counts, for instance. The very idea seems antiquated today. But the flip side is that strong factions of reliably partisan voters can show what power they hold. And in that reality, the NRA playbook is a powerful tool. [See Source]