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Trump wants to frighten his voters to the polls with the NRA suit — here’s why he’ll probably fail

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President Donald Trump speaking at the annual NRA convention in 2019. (Screenshot/YouTube)

President Donald Trump and some of his allies are hoping that the New York lawsuit into the National Rifle Association for financial fraud will be a gift to the campaign, by scaring pro-gun voters to the polls. The president himself has referred to the suit as a “very terrible thing that just happened,” and former Betsy DeVos aide Greg McNeilly called it an “incredibly tangible, specific attack on a core Republican value … This is a gift to the Trump campaign, and it’s an unforced error on the [Democratic] side. It’s a real mistake.”

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But according to Politico, many other strategists, including Republicans, don’t think the president will be able to leverage it to save his campaign.

“The NRA is not the institution it was in American politics even four years ago, when it spent heavily to help Trump win election,” wrote David Siders. “Beset by financial problems and infighting, public support for the NRA has declined during the Trump era, falling below 50 percent last year for the first time since the 1990s, according to Gallup. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of Americans want stricter gun laws. That’s when voters are even thinking about gun control. Three months before Election Day, they mostly aren’t — it’s all about coronavirus and the economy, stupid. That’s a problem for Republicans even the NRA has acknowledged.”

According to Frank Miniter, who edits the NRA publication America’s First Freedom, “only 17% of gun owners in the survey said ‘gun-related issues’ were one of their three top policy areas going into this election (15% did say ‘crime’ and 18% said ‘civil rights’).” Meanwhile, longtime GOP strategist Frank Luntz said, “America has changed. Every person who cares about the NRA is already voting for Trump. Suburban swing voters care about the right to own a gun, but they don’t care about the NRA.”

To some extent, an effort to drag the NRA to the forefront of the election would be an extension of Trump’s broader effort to fight a culture war.

He has repeatedly run ads trying to link former Vice President Joe Biden to calls from Black Lives Matter activists to “defund the police” — which has failed partly because voters broadly support Black Lives Matter, and partly because Biden hasn’t advocated defunding the police. And early on Thursday, Trump claimed that Biden would “hurt God” and “hurt the Bible” — an odd claim given that Biden is a lifelong practicing Catholic.

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