Donald Trump had a political gimme—an issue that enjoys 90% support among Americans, polls well with Republicans, and could have given him a chance at expanding his appeal among suburban and college-educated voters who have increasingly soured on the GOP ever since Trump's elevation to the Oval Office.
Fortunately, Trump was too stupid to exploit that opportunity, a sign of just how terribly weak and vulnerable he is politically. On the heels of talking up national support for universal background checks, Trump bowed to pressure from the National Rifle Association (NRA), telling reporters Monday, "Just remember, we already have a lot of background checks. OK?"
Keep in mind, the NRA is at its weakest point in decades as higher ups in the organization snipe at one another over corruption while board members resign one after the other. So Trump just got cowed by a political group that's presently drowning in scandal, lawsuits, and investigations. In other words, Trump is so frightened by what kind of damage the NRA could do among his exceedingly limited base of supporters, that he couldn't face down the hobbled political organization in order to open a potential pathway to new voters.
In particular, Trump might have made some inroads among suburban women, who not only shunned Republicans in 2018 but increasingly view Trump as a direct driver of domestic terrorism. The most recent Fox News polls included some brutal numbers for Trump on gun violence. More than 50% of suburban women disapproved of Trump's handling of mass shootings, more than 50% said Trump's sentiments bore partial blame for mass shootings (as did more than 50% of respondents overall), and more than 50% of suburban women said the Trump administration had made the country "less safe" in regard to mass shootings. (In the graph below, dark gray indicates Trump making America “less safe” in terms of mass shootings, light gray is no difference, and red is more safe.)
It’s worth spending a moment reflecting on just how damning that polling data is for Trump. When more than half of registered voters, 56%, say the leader of their country deserves at least some blame for putting citizens at mortal risk, that’s a very bleak case for reelection.
As for those suburban women, another poll out Tuesday showed just how much gun control now matters to them. A Republican polling firm polled five suburban House districts in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia and found suburban women chose action on preventing gun violence as their No. 1 issue over health care, which was their No. 2 issue.
Trump was in position to do something politically positive and proactive which, if handled correctly, could have cost him very little among his base while combatting the perception of a key voting bloc that he is personally putting lives in jeopardy. Instead of bowing down and kissing the NRA's tarnished ring, he could have easily told the group behind closed doors, I'm gonna push this legislation and you're gonna shut up about it because I don't have a chance of getting reelected unless I open up some new avenues to voters. But instead, Trump is so beholden to his rabid 35% that he didn’t have the guts to take a stand that might actually improve his chances with a wider swath of the voting public. Trump's retreat from background checks exudes the stunning political weakness of a hollow man with a flagging ego who is too desperate for adulation to risk anything, even if it's among the smartest bets in politics.