President Obama and others keep making the argument that 90 percent of the public supported the background check provision that failed in the Senate last week. But if 90 percent of the public supported the background check bill, isn’t everybody super-upset about this right now? And won’t the wrath of the voters take care of the issue in 2014?
Not a chance, and here’s why.
Yes, a plurality (47 percent) describe themselves as either “angry” or “disappointed” about the failure of the gun legislation but 39 percent call themselves “relieved” or ”happy” about what happened. That’s a far cry from the 90-ish percent support that expanding background checks – the centerpiece of the proposed legislation — enjoyed.
And, among those who said they were “very closely” keeping tabs on the vote, the split was even closer; 48 percent said they were angry/disappointed while 47 percent were relieved or happy. (That piece of data is indicative of the passion gap on the issue between those supporting gun rights and those pushing for more restrictions.)
And if the public opinion response is flat, you can bet the voters’ response in 2014 will be even flatter, as I noted in this week’s The Briefing (for which you can sign up here). The defeat of gun control in the Senate can only help Republicans in 2014.
First of all, the Senate’s failure means there won’t be a House vote, which would have made for some nice Democratic ads in suburban swing districts. But to return to the Senate side, let’s look at the map to see which Republican senators will be put in danger by voting against gun control.
The states in red are all represented by a Republican senator who is up in 2014, and all of the incumbents (including the ones retiring in Georgia and Nebraska) voted against gun control except for Susan Collins of Maine, who voted for it:
So, what do you think? Will that vote cost the Republicans in Idaho? Wyoming? Texas? Oklahoma? The Democrats’ two best pickup opportunities in 2014 are probably Kentucky and Georgia (which is an open seat). Do you think it’ll hurt them there?
So, yeah, you get the picture.
To make matters worse, you have liberal fundraisers threatening to boycott Democrats who voted against. And of all things, President Obama’s group, Organizing for Action, is now promising to support Pat Toomey (I’ll believe it when I see it) and to make life more difficult for Democrats who voted against.
It’s an open question how much damage OFA can do — and it’s probably not much. But the senators they’ve promised to target already have enough trouble on their hands, and friendly fire is that last thing they need. Hence Max Baucus’ unexpected retirement in Montana.
Okay, but if this vote didn’t help Democrats’ political chances as a party, it at least helps the prospects of future gun control, right? Wrong again. Baucus will probably be replaced on the ballot by an even more conservative Democrat (former Gov. Brian Schweitzer) or else Democrats will lose the seat to an NRA lifer. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, doesn’t have a serious challenger yet, but any Republican (or Democrat) capable of beating him in Alaska will be equally pro-gun. And the same goes for Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas.
So if incumbent Republicans are safe on this one, the National Rifle Association’s majority in Congress is even safer. Not only did the gun vote make Obama look like a political weakling, but it has, on net, harmed Democrats’ chances and gained no ground on the gun control issue. It’s an unmitigated disaster, and a sign of how wrong Obama was to embrace a strategy of requiring 60 votes, so as to box out amendments (like concealed-carry reciprocity) that would have bolstered gun rights.