Troubles at the top of the politically influential National Rifle Association could damage President Trump’s bid for reelection, two strategists on either side of the party aisle are saying.
The politically conservative organization and its more than 5 million members have long delivered hefty financial and topical support to Republican candidates, but its influence might be shrinking.
Earlier this year, former NRA President Oliver North left the organization amid allegations that he was trying to extort money from CEO Wayne LaPierre. In June, the group cut ties with longtime advertising partner, Ackerman McQueen, and also shut down programming for NRATV, the streaming service that shared the NRA message. Also in June, longtime organization chief lobbyist Chris Cox resigned after he’d been suspended during a power struggle with LaPierre.
Then, there are the troubles with New York State. In April, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced she was investigating the group’s finances. That same month, the organization said in a lawsuit that it was facing financial destruction because it had become a target of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In May, the state ruled the organization’s insurance policy that offered coverage to gun owners was unlawful and it fined the organization $7 million.
The troubles became so prominent that President Trump tweeted to the organization in April that it needed to sharpen itself up to counter against the New York State actions.
The NRA “must get its act together quickly, stop the internal fighting, & get back to GREATNESS - FAST!” the president posted on Twitter.
The developments marked a sharp left turn for a powerful, 148-year-old advocacy organization that has come to stand for more than gun ownership. Many associate with NRA with politically conservative beliefs, the pro-law-enforcement side of the debate over alleged police misconduct and citizens’ rights to shoot people for reasons some consider unwarranted.
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment left with a staffer. President Trump’s campaign press representative did not respond to an email request for comment.
“I think the NRA has been a powerful ally for the president and the fact that they have all these issues which have been long simmering is a huge distraction and could weaken them, so it’s very possible (their troubles could affect Trump’s campaign),” Mike Murphy, Republican strategist and cohost with Democratic strategist David Alexrod of the Hacks podcast, told Fortune in an interview.
“The other thing is some of the issues are not as long as they used to be after the school shootings,” Murphy added, referring to incidents like the April 30 shooting on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte that left two dead and four hurt and the April 25 shooting or the May 18, 2018, shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas that left 10 dead and 13 hurt.
A political strategist from the other side of the aisle stresses that public tragedies that have caused large loss of life have turned some away from the organization.
Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist based in Columbia, S.C., believes the NRA’s relevance is diminishing. Seawright has personal reasons for his beliefs about the pro-gun lobby. Seawright was friends with Rev. and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine people shot dead by white supremacist Dylann Roof at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015. A legal loophole and F.B.I. error cleared the way for Roof to secure a gun.
“My friend was killed at Emanuel and I know other people have had to plan unexpected funerals because leaders in this country and organizations like the NRA refuse to take a common sense approach,” Seawright said.
“The organization has had a culture of corruption for some time ,” Seawright continued. “This is why elections are so important because now we have people who are digging into this organization to unveil some of the corruption that has been at the core of the organization for a long time.”
Seawright believes that the crossroads is forcing what he views as a more publicly appealing approach to the firearms debate.
“I know their normal rhetoric is that democrats want to take away their Second Amendment rights,” he said. “We need a comprehensive bipartisan common-sense approach.”
One twist on the question of whether the bumpiness being experienced by the NRA will affect the White House campaign is the fact that the organization has typically appealed to Trump’s base voters, Murphy said. Trump already has a lock on those voters, the strategist explained.
In fact, he said, it’s the presidential race that might have an effect on the NRA, as opposed to the other way around.
The campaign might act as a diversion away from the organizational troubles, Murphy continued.
“They (the NRA) may use the presidential race to try to get back in control of the debate,” the strategist said.
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