On Friday, President Donald Trump delivered a speech at the National Rifle Association (NRA)'s annual convention that was expansive and unfocused in the extreme. In fact, even though it finally worked its way back around to gun rights before it was all said and done, Trump's NRA convention speech sounded like an election campaign rehash all over again.
Trump, speaking to a packed room at the Kay Bailey Hutchison convention center in Dallas, Texas, started off by shouting-out some Texas Republican officials in the crowd, and touting the importance of the Second Amendment. Then, however, things got a little distracted, as he touched on everything from tax cuts, to Obamacare, to Kanye West, to the Robert Mueller investigation, to John Kerry, and of course, his 2016 election victory.
It was a digressive and at-times rambling speech, with Trump sometimes interjecting different thoughts or changing courses mid-sentence. For example, while promoting the GOP's tax cut package to the crowd, halfway through he began talking instead about the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.
"As a result of our massive tax cuts, and everybody is benefiting and everybody is happy, and the Democrats are very concerned, you watch how well we do in ‘18, you watch," Trump said. "Get out and vote, don’t be complacent, don’t be complacent! History says that when you win the presidency you get complacent. You know the feeling, you know the feeling?"
He also thanked Kanye West for helping to boost his polling numbers among black males ― "thank you Kanye," he remarked ― and railed against special counsel Robert Mueller, repeatedly insisting to the assembled NRA crowd that he was the victim of a "witch hunt." He even read aloud from a CNN article about a federal judge's recent criticisms of the Mueller probe, and eventually began, in classic Trump style, relitigating his 2016 election victory.
"I have to say, you weren’t sure that Trump was gonna win, but you all went out there, you all went out there, and you voted. You voted," Trump told the crowd. "There were times they’d say, a week before, they were saying, I remember they came out with a lot of phony polls. You know what that’s called? Suppression. They convince you that you’re wasting your time."
He added: "Why should you vote? Go to a movie instead, come home, watch the results. Very few of the people in this room and in this country did that, and we really had a big night."
Trump eventually did get around to talking about guns in the second-half of his speech, criticizing France for its tough gun control laws, and calling for public schools to be "hardened" through increased security measures like metal detectors, armed guards, and armed teachers.
Friday was the third time Trump had addressed the NRA's annual gathering. He spoke at the convention in May of 2016 after the association endorsed him for the presidency, spouting classic pro-gun arguments about how the best way to prevent gun casualties is by increasing gun ownership. "I will not let you down," he told the audience.
He spoke at the same event last year, which made him the first sitting president to have done so since Ronald Reagan. He made a "promise" to the association then: "As your President, I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms."
The association contributed more than $21 million to Trump's campaign during the 2016 election. Despite this, he's recently claimed that the NRA doesn't control him. During a bipartisan meeting about gun control that was publicly televised in February, he lambasted certain members of Congress — especially Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) — for being "afraid" of the association.
"They have great power over you people," he said. "They have less power over me."
But since then he's walked back many of the more radical reform proposals he seemed to consider at the time. And now, of course, he's agreed to speak once again at the NRA's convention. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday that the White House doesn't view this decision as a betrayal of the anti-gun violence movement that's gained steam in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
"Safety is a big priority, security is a big priority for the administration," she said at a press briefing. "But we also support the Second Amendment, and strongly support it, and don't see there to be a problem with speaking at the National Rifle Association’s meeting."
Of course, whether or not the White House wants to acknowledge it, there could be a political price for Trump's speech. As The Washington Post points out, a recent study from NPR/PBS/Marist College shows that gun control currently has strong bipartisan support and that advocates for tougher laws now care more about the issue than gun rights activists.
Chris Tognotti contributed to this report.