On MSNBC’s Morning Joe this week, Sen. Manchin (D-WV) fired a salvo in his escalating war with the NRA - or, as he tells it, the NRA’s Washington leadership.
Responding to an NRA attack ad that claimed he was ‘working with President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg’ and betraying his commitment to the 2nd Amendment by pushing forward with the now-defeated Manchin-Toomey bill that would have strengthened background checks on gun purchases, Manchin said “They’re trying to say I’ve changed, but I haven’t changed… the leadership of the NRA in Washington has changed. In 1999, background checks were good!”
It’s notable not just that Manchin seems sincere about enacting background checks in the wake of Newtown, but that he’s willing to fight back against the NRA in doing so. The NRA’s attack ad tells its members to phone Manchin’s office and complain about his “betrayal”; Manchin turns the tables in his ad, and asks NRA members to phone the NRA and complain about their lack of support for background checks.
Manchin is, above all else, a shrewd politician. He’s a Democrat who has managed to win by large margins, first as governor and then as senator, in an increasingly red West Virginia. If he’s made the calculation to call the NRA’s bluff and dare them to come after him, then he’s decided that they’re nothing more than a paper tiger at this point, full of bluster about their ability to bring down politicians who don’t follow their increasingly retrograde orthodoxy but without any ability to follow through. If Manchin demonstrates that he can spit in the teeth of the NRA and not suffer any damage, it may well embolden other, more timid Democrats who think they need to maintain an A-rating in order to keep their jobs.
It helps that Manchin isn’t facing re-election for a few years yet, of course. It’s easier to be brave when you aren’t in the heat of a campaign. But this election cycle could end up being the swan song for Wayne LaPierre’s brand of crazy as a truly scary political force. Between Bloomberg’s Independence USA super PAC hammering Democrats who tow the NRA line, and Manchin attempting to prove that there are no real consequences for defying them, the NRA may suddenly find that they can’t make Congress dance to their tune the way they used to.
Wishful thinking? Maybe. But if there’s going to be real movement towards a better, saner gun policy in this country it’s clearly going to have to happen over the NRA’s grave. Manchin’s an experienced hunter, but this is the most important hunt he’s ever been on. I wish him nothing but luck with this one.