Is it possible that men and women with the background and wherewithal to get elected to the U.S. Senate would not understand that there are limits to how deeply they can offend public sensibilities without paying a price?
Yes, it is. Senators can be that blind, that clueless, and that arrogant. In a body that’s as lowercase undemocratic as the Senate, it’s almost a requirement.
When an overwhelming majority of voters—including Republicans and gun-toting NRA members—agree that Second Amendment rights are entirely compatible with laws designed to keep firearms out of dangerous hands, it takes colossal insensitivity to think ignoring that reality won’t cost somewhere down the line.
But those chickens are now coming home to roost. The political news is starting to fill with accounts of how Senators—especially Republicans from apparently not-so-Red states—are starting to feel the wrath of voters. The Huffington Post has kept an accounting of exactly how many polling points have been lost by specific Senators who voted against expanded background checks.
A great deal of attention has been focused on New Hampshire’s Republican Kelly Ayotte, but there seems to be plenty of heat to go around. Polls in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio show a significant backlash against five Senators—Lisa Murkowski, Mark Begich, Jeff Flake, Dean Heller and Rob Portman—who thought the 90% who favor better background checks didn’t really matter.
And op-ed pages are humming with notes of retribution. Former Obama chief of staff Bill Daley lashed out at wayward Democrats in the Washington Post, in particular against North Dakota’s Heidi Heidikamp, whom he pointedly now regrets supporting last November. A noted centrist and Clinton cabinet secretary, Daley feels “betrayed” and nearly orders Dem donors around the country to cut off figures like Heitkamp and the three other Democrats who wouldn’t support the compromise legislation.
Along with the disdain for those of both parties lacking the courage to stand up to the NRA has come parallel praise for those who made the tougher choice to initiate or support a law because it’s the right thing even if it makes political life a bit more difficult.
Daley’s piece labels as “heroes” both West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, the defeated amendment’s authors and both dedicated gun rights advocates. He also has a pat on the back for Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, who represent states where a vote against guns is much tougher than in California, New York, or Illinois.
Where all these polling and finger-pointing are headed is still up in the air. Will democracy prevail after this bruising defeat? Will there be a second chance for cowards to redeem themselves in the public eye? Sen. Manchin says he’ll try again, but Toomey sounds rather like a quitter.
And will the next mass shooting be enough to tip the scales? Don’t bet on it.