Sebastian at the Pennsylvania-focused Shall Not Be Questioned blog posed an interesting question for gun owners a few days ago: as a political group, has our vote been ‘captured’ by the GOP? No, we’re not talking about GOP enforcers coming along and physically taking us hostage. We’re talking about the minimum effort the party needs to guarantee that a political bloc will vote for its candidates; once the party believes that the ‘captured’ group’s votes are locked down, and they don’t have anywhere else to go, well, that’s that — kiss future progress for your agenda goodbye. This has happened to other political blocs — primarily on the left — in the past, and it hasn’t necessarily worked out for them.
For example, in a recent article for FiveThirtyEight.com, Farai Chideya opines that the African-American vote has pretty well been captured by the Democrat Party…and it’s generally been a disaster for them. The Democrats take their votes for granted, the GOP figures it can’t compete for them, so it largely doesn’t bother, and — with few exceptions — as a group they get a lot of lip service and not a lot of benefit.
The captured group theory was put forward by Princeton political scientist Paul Frymer in a book first published in 1999, “Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America.” He argued that politicians focus their attention on white swing voters, and that the two-party system is structured to push aside the concerns of black voters because they consistently and overwhelmingly favor one party….
Are black voters really “captured”? They certainly meet one part of the definition: In recent elections, more than 90 percent of the black vote has gone to the Democratic candidate for president.
Ms. Chideya cites a law review article that found one phenomena of this ‘captured’ effect: African-American support for Congressional legislation actually decreases that legislation’s chances of passing. “As white support increases from 0% to 100%, the likelihood of adoption increases from about 10% to about 60%. As black support rises from 0% to 100%, though, the odds of enactment fall from roughly 40% to roughly 30%.”
Obviously, there are other factors at play in the huge swamp that is American ethnic and special interest politics. But are gun owners in danger of a similar fate? Lowball estimates and polling indicate that somewhere around 100 million Americans own firearms. But of that total, those who actually prioritize the right to keep and bear arms are far fewer.
Gun rights wasn’t always such a partisan issue. There were times when the lines were pretty blurry. The Democrats may have included Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein, but it was also the party of folks who fought for the Second Amendment like John Dingell. The GOP had far more on the pro-2A side, but it also had people like Massachusetts Governor William Weld, who saddled Massachusetts with gun control laws while in office. And arguably hasn’t changed his spots since. And don’t forget Richard Nixon who was down with banning handguns in their entirety.
Since then, the GOP — despite its many, many flaws — has become a much more solid ally on the Second Amendment. At the same time, Democrats have become a more solid enemy. Surely this polarization can’t be a good thing for us in the long-run. If the GOP chokes due to issues unrelated to guns, gun rights supporters will sink with it. If the GOP candidate goes soft on gun control, well, we have a situation like the Pennsylvania Senate race this year.
The Keystone State’s voters have a choice between a strongly anti-gun Democrat in Kate McGinty and a mildly-anti gun Republican, Pat Toomey. McGinty has been endorsed by severals gun control organizations. Toomey, on the other hand, has been endorsed by…billionaire plutocrat Michael Bloomberg.
It’s a tough choice for Pennsylvania gun owners. For whatever it’s worth, I suspect the best choice might be to stick with Toomey, warts and all. After all, he has lined up with the NRA by opposing a vote for President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. And while we certainly can’t count on him on background checks, half a loaf is better than nothing, right?
On the other hand, “Don’t worry, he’s really with me when it matters,” sounds a lot like something Hillary might say about Bill after he comes back from a visit to Dennis Hof’s place in Nevada. It also sounds like something a group whose votes have been ‘captured’ might tell themselves.
So has the gun vote become a captive of the GOP? And if so, does it matter?