Politics & Policy

At the NRA Convention, Scott Walker Previews a Likely 2016 Republican Message

(Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Don’t be surprised to hear Republicans hammering the president’s party for its routine lawbreaking.

During his speech to the NRA Convention this afternoon, a relaxed Scott Walker said the following:

Sometimes I think that the current occupant in the White House forgets that when the president is sworn in he takes an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Well Mr. President, the Second Amendment is part of the Constitution. You don’t get to pick and choose which part of the Constitution you support. Preserving, protecting and defending it is not optional. It’s mandatory.

And I think it’s about time we had a president who understands that.

Conservatives often talk like this to one another — especially when the question is firearms — and, because such comments tend to illicit wild in-group approval, they tend to overestimate the degree to which they resonate with the general public. For somebody like me, “I think we need to hew to the principles outlined within the Constitution” is a winning message; for an average voter who is unfamiliar with the deeper legal and philosophical questions that underpin the American order, it is much less so. All told, one could forgive casual observers for rolling their eyes at Walker here. Every president is always a “tyrant,” right?

But to do so, I’d venture, would be premature. Indeed, I suspect that “the last president forgot his oath” is likely to be a broad theme of the Republican party’s 2016 campaign — regardless of which candidate ends up getting the nod. Why? Well, because this time around, the charge that the incumbent party has shown scant regard for the established constitutional settlement carries with it a great deal more sting. In the last couple of years, President Obama has become increasingly dismissive of the norms within which he is expected to operate. And, by all accounts, Americans have noticed.

#related#A solid example is immigration. While Americans are split on the question of reform per se, they are not so divided on the question of the president’s executive actions — which they consider to be inappropriate, if not downright illegal — or on the question of how well the law is being enforced. In the last month or so, this skepticism has been bolstered by the courts, which are — for the moment at least — steadfastly blocking implementation of the order. In the last year or so, the impression has also been cultivated by the Supreme Court, at the hands of whose members President Obama has suffered a series of humiliating legal defeatsover and over and over again.

On their own, such things do not sway elections. But eventually, latent impressions do start to matter. In 1976, Jimmy Carter was greatly helped by the general public’s sense that he would bring some honesty back to the White House. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was aided by voters who hoped that their next president would have some balls. In 2000, George W. Bush managed to beat a strong incumbent party at least in part because he vowed to restore some dignity to an executive branch that had been racked by sordid scandals and pettiness. Quite how 2016 will turn out remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Republicans hammering the president’s party for its routine lawbreaking. And when they do, it will not be limited to the question of gun control.

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