On February 21, President Trump met with survivors of the Parkland school shooting and attempted to convey a sincere intention to act. “Thank you for pouring out your hearts,” he said, “because the world is watching and we’re going to come up with a solution.” A week later Trump held a surreal, televised discussion with members of Congress in which he advocated “comprehensive” gun control, including “powerful” background checks and raising the age of legal purchase for assault rifles. He accused fellow Republicans of being afraid of the National Rifle Association. It was classic Trump: full of confidence, insisting something big would happen, and having no idea what he was talking about.
What happened next was predictable. Trump met with the head of the NRA. He stopped talking about the issue he was going to solve. He held a White House meeting about video games, an apparent attempt to deflect attention away from guns as a cause of mass murder. And now the Trump administration has unveiled its plan, which looks a lot like … something a politician who was afraid of the NRA would support. There’s no higher age limit to purchase an assault rifle. It focuses on arming schoolteachers, an absurd notion that massively overstates the capacity of even well-trained teachers to win a gunfight, and ignores the dangers of introducing hundreds of thousands of new guns into schools.
The abandonment of his brief advocacy of gun control shows why conservatives who consider Trump a reliable advocate for their agenda have been rewarded, and those who dismissed him as a fraud have had so little evidence to support their position. Trump has a mixed ideological and partisan record, and has at times supported liberal positions on many issues, including gun control. Yet he has not proven to be a maverick or the bipartisan deal-maker conservatives feared. Instead he has maintained a nearly spotless record of adhering to conservative orthodoxy.
The reason is that he simply lacks the basic grasp of policy or politics necessary to break ranks with his party. Trump might be temporarily seized with a moderate sentiment, but he can be coaxed back into line by the conservative advisers who surround him. And as a man driven by personal loyalties and grudges, he gravitates toward people who praise him and lashes out at those who oppose him. Since the former are all Republicans, and the latter mostly Democrats, it is child’s play for conservatives to bring Trump back into the fold when he wanders off. It has gotten to the point where nobody even takes Trump seriously when he makes him promises of bipartisan action. He is far too weak and ignorant to follow through.