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What I’m Hearing Regarding the Politics of Gov. McAuliffe’s Gun Deal with the NRA


by Lowell

Since the gun deal between Gov. McAuliffe’s administration (negotiated on his behalf by “A”-rated-by-the-NRA Brian Moran, without any input from the gun safety folks) and the NRA was announced late last week, I’ve been talking to Democrats about the politics of all this. Here are a few thoughts I’ve gathered.

  • Almost needless to say, gun safety advocates are livid, both from being blindsided but also from the contents of this deal, which they believe is not only NOT a fair compromise, but in at least one way (the reciprocity piece) a step backwards. See here for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence’s point-by-point demolition of the deal. As the Washington Post reported: “…the deal nearly fell apart early Friday morning after a senior Republican said on a radio program that the agreement was “a huge expansion of gun rights. ‘When they laid it out to me, I’d make that deal every day of the week and twice on Sunday,’ Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said on the Jimmy Barrett Show on Richmond’s WRVA radio. ‘And then when I saw how folks on the other side of the aisle . . . they’re pretty upset with the governor this morning. That’s a pretty good barometer for me.'” Note that Gilbert is one of the most extreme members of the Virginia General Assembly, so if he’s elated with this deal…’nuff said.
  • Multiple (a strong majority of) people told me they thought this deal hurts AG Mark Herring — both now and for 2017 — by “throwing him under the bus,” “making him look weak,” etc. As one person put it, “Terry cut Mark’s legs out from under him…he’s now the AG who was so activist and far left even his own governor had to take steps to reverse his work.”
  • I did have one person tell me they thought that press releases and media coverage praising AG Herring for making this deal possible might help him. But, of course that assumes you a) buy that line of argument/spin; and b) believe this is a good deal…
  • Several other Dems were already imagining the Republican attack ads in 2017 against Mark Herring, how “this is a guy who is SO far left that even Hillary Clinton’s pal, liberal Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe, couldn’t take it anymore and had to intervene.” Ugh.
  • On the other hand, another Dem told me they thought this doesn’t necessarily weaken Mark Herring, that the election is still far enough in the future that the pain – and memory of this -will fade.
  • I’m also hearing speculation that this deal “cuts off any chance of gun violence prevention money for Ralph Northam next year,” including potentially millions from Michael Bloomberg and others.
  • Another way this potentially damages Democrats for 2017 is by angering and/or demoralizing a key group of progressive activists — the gun safety folks. 
  • One rumor I heard was that this deal was aimed, in part, at helping Ralph Northam with rural voters who might be open to his candidacy, but were unhappy about Mark Herring’s actions on concealed-carry reciprocity. Most people I talked to thought that was not credible. As one person put it, sarcastically, “yeah, because those have totally been our voters in the past.”
  • As for Sen. Bryce Reeves (R), who negotiated this deal along with the NRA and Brian Moran, several people told me they thought this helps him in his possible 2017 bid for LG. In this analysis, Reeves is now the “hero” who managed to get this great deal on guns out of “New York liberal Terry McAuliffe,” heading off AG Herring’s actions curtailing concealed carry reciprocity, etc.
  • I also heard a theory that Gov. McAuliffe was worried about legislation reversing AG Herring’s actions on reciprocity making its way through the state legislature with veto-proof majorities in both chambers. What I can’t figure out is how that would have happened in the Senate, where 27 votes would be required to override. If you assume all 21 Republicans would hold together, you’d need to find 6 Democrats to join them in overriding McAuliffe’s veto on that one. I can think of a few possibilities (Lynwood Lewis? John Edwards? Chap Petersen? Creigh Deeds? Jeremy McPike?), but not sure it really would ever get to veto override territory.
  • I probably mentioned this previously, but I’m also told that Democrats were not informed about the gun deal (let alone consulted on it) until after it was negotiated. Since then, the McAuliffe folks have been putting on a heavy-handed, full-court-press to ge Dems in line (and make sure they stay there!), including (from what I hear) some yelling by Brian Moran at a Democratic House caucus meeting. (I hear that speaking to Senate Dems, Moran was mostly in the mode of “this is the deal, take it or leave it.”)
  • Finally, I heard variants of this comment from multiple people: “if the NRA and VCDL think this is a great deal, you KNOW it can’t be good!”
So that’s what I’ve been hearing. How about you?
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