In a morbidly ironic way, the February tragedy of the Parkland, Florida school massacre has given Democrats new life in their battle to win back the House of Representatives in November.
Until the tragedy in Parkland, the Democrats, for many reasons, had shown little hope of mounting much of a challenge to Republican House domination.
Now, however, Democrats have been presented a fat, newly-vulnerable public relations target at which they can aim their mounting congressional campaign: the National Rifle Association.
First, a few facts:
Democratic leadership is old and tired and out-of-touch. Nancy Pelosi in the House, despite overwhelming sentiment in her own party to ditch her, refuses to let go. Her Senate counterpart Chuck Schumer has become little more than a whiny obstructionist. Republican opposition in November would have an easy time picking both leaders apart.
Democratic progressive leaders have similarly little chance of gaining traction. Obama wannabes Senators Kirstin Gilibrand, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris are nowhere near ready for prime time. And socialists Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are just plain scary.
Democratic policy principles are either non-existent or non-starters. Priorities such as immigration reform and Dreamer continuance and Russian election interference, while laudatory, aren’t exactly at the top of the list for most Americans. And Democratic revulsion at the Trump tax cuts that add money to most people’s wallets is a losing battle.
But the hope, even for a party so bereft of ideas as the Democrats, rose anew on February 14, when 17 children were tragically gunned down in Florida. Republicans, despite a growing national mood to take action against guns, generally remain too timid to confront the NRA’s lobbying might.
The Democrats should have no such compunction. If they want to take back the House, they should take dead aim at the NRA by considering a public relations strategy along the following lines:
Call for a ban on assault weapons
This is the key element in any political initiative, because it’s what the NRA most fears.
First, there’s no earthly reason for individuals to own assault weapons — not for hunting, not for self-defense, not for nothing. This reality has been corroborated by countless military veterans, who, in editorials throughout the nation since the Parkland massacre, have reaffirmed that assault rifles are designed for war, to kill people — nothing else. That’s the reason they’re banned in most civilized countries and should be in the United States.
They aren’t, because gun manufacturers make lots of money from the sale of assault weapons. How much? Nobody knows, because the NRA has consistently lobbied against any national gun registry that would track such purchases. Protecting the sale of assault weapons, such as the one used in Florida, is the NRA’s Holy Grail, which is why Republicans, worried about NRA votes, have shied away from the topic and instead pursued “safer” compromises like banning bump stocks, raising gun-buying ages and fortifying background checks. In the midterms, Democrats should aggressively campaign to ban all assault weapons and force their adversaries to make a public choice.
Dana Loesch & Wayne LaPierre
Take on the NRA’s new chief spokesperson
The new face of the NRA, as we learned after the Parkland shooting, is the articulate and camera-ready Dana Loesch. Big mistake.
Ms. Loesch is a Glen Beck-mentored, full-on bible-toting conservative, who tweets, blogs, authors books and appears frequently on radio and television. She’s fearless and a true believer; presumably perfect to advocate for the NRA.
But after a tragedy the likes of Parkland, where innocent children were once again struck down by a lunatic with a war weapon, a tough-talking, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners true believer like Dana Loesch is the worst spokesman you could hire.
The situation screams for “empathy,” especially from an NRA that’s already reviled for its power and inflexibility. In the wake of Parkland, the NRA, beyond anything else, needs to convey concern and understanding and reasonableness. That’s why President Trump, having apparently learned from Charlottesville, is appearing to listen to all sides and consider various options in stopping school shootings.
Meanwhile, the NRA’s Loesch singles out shoddy law enforcement and biased media coverage, rather than the need for increased gun control. Opponents, including Democrats running for Congress, should recognize that in “sticking to her guns,” Loesch and the organization she represents are now clearly on the wrong side of the debate and should be exploited for it.
Go after Wayne LaPierre
For nearly three decades, the Executive Vice President and guiding light behind the National Rifle Association has been an unyielding, irremovable, undefeatable force in Washington. Not anymore.
The Parkland tragedy has altered the NRA equation. When powerful, controversy-averse companies like MetLife, Chubb, Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, Symantec, Allied Van Lines and even conservative Georgia-based Delta Airlines cut ties with the NRA, you know the ground has shifted. And both the NRA and Wayne LaPierre, its gun-toting ideological leader with the French-sounding name, are now vulnerable.
So, if the Democrats truly want to win back the House, they should begin to focus their public relations sights on the one target which, in light of recent awful events, most Americans have come to believe should no longer stand.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 40 years. He is author of the Pearson text “The Practice of Public Relations,” now in its 13th edition, and co-author of “Rethinking Reputation" and "Idea Wise.” He may be reached directly at email@example.com.