In competitive states, we're seeing two kinds of politicians: those who support new measures intended to reduce gun violence and those who pretend to support new measures intended to reduce gun violence.
In New Hampshire, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), shortly after voting to kill the bipartisan bill to expand background checks, benefited from new ads claiming she voted for "a bipartisan plan to make background checks more effective." In Arizona, Sen. Jeff Flake (R), who voted the way the NRA demanded last month, this month is telling anyone who'll listen how much he loves "to strengthen background checks."
And in Nevada, as Jon Ralston noted today, Sen. Dean Heller (R) is sending out interesting correspondence to his constituents.
"Knowing your interest in gun control, I wanted to give you an update on legislation I have cosponsored and supported recently."
Imagine how Nevadans felt when they received a letter that began that way from none other than Sen. Dean Heller, who voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill, saying he feared a creation of a gun registry despite his general support for the concepts in the measure. He was hailed by NRA types and blistered by gun control advocates.
I wonder how many folks who received that missive fell for the having-it-both-ways Heller approach.
Probably quite a few. That's the point -- politicians who do unpopular things have to cynically hope they can mislead voters, not by explicitly lying, but by taking advantage of public confusion over details.
In this case, Heller's letter (pdf) makes him sound like quite the reformer, boasting of his support for background checks, keeping firearms from the mentally ill, endorsing an amendment sponsored by a Democrat, and cosponsoring "bipartisan" legislation.
The typical person, who may not follow the news closely, would probably have no idea that Heller helped filibuster the bipartisan measure on background checks, and helped kill the entire bill on gun reforms.
But therein lies the point: the Nevada Republican is embarrassed enough to try to give people the wrong impression, and that level of embarrassment tells us something important.
As we talked about the other day, the NRA would have lawmakers believe -- indeed, it would have all of us believe -- that opponents of gun reforms enjoy broad support from the American mainstream. The NRA's allies have nothing to be embarrassed about, and have no reason to fear a public backlash, since freedom-loving Americans have no use for those rascally liberal ideas on gun safety.
But we know they're wrong, not just because of the available public opinion data, but because the senators who voted with the NRA appear to be going out of their way to pretend they didn't.