It’s an old and effective trick, but that doesn’t mean it has to work.
For a moment Friday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was in two places at once.
At about 3:30, the National Rifle Association played videotaped remarks from the governor in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. Abbott had originally planned to attend the conference in person, but he canceled Thursday after facing enormous pressure to do so following the mass shooting that occurred at a Uvalde elementary school on Tuesday afternoon.
So at the same time in Uvalde, Abbott took the stage for a press conference to discuss the state’s response to this week’s tragedy.
The messages of the two Abbotts didn’t quite line up.
In Houston, he said that laws were not enough to stop mass shootings.
“Remember this, there are thousands of laws on the books across the country that limit the owning or using a firearm, laws that have not stopped madmen from carrying out evil acts on innocent people and peaceful communities,” the virtual Abbott said.
“In Uvalde, the gunman committed a felony under Texas law before he even pulled the trigger. It is a felony to possess a firearm on school premises, but that did not stop him. And what he did on campus is capital murder. That is a crime that would have subjected him to the death penalty in Texas,” Abbott added.
But in Uvalde, he promised new laws and action from the Legislature to try to stop the massacres, and he said “all options were on the table” in regards to a potential special session of the Legislature to address gun violence.
“Do we expect laws to come out of this devastating crime? The answer is absolutely yes. And there will be laws in multiple different subject areas,” the real-life Abbott said. “We need to have a discussion and pass laws to make sure that our schools are safer, and the people of Uvalde and the people of Texas deserve it.”
The status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We’re not going to be here and talking about it and and do nothing about it.”
The difference between the two Abbotts highlights a fundamental tension that Republican politicians are facing as they attempt to respond to Tuesday’s tragedy: How do you talk about stopping gun violence without talking about guns?
This assumes that they care about stopping gun violence, which assumes facts not in evidence. But the short answer to that question is that they need to lose some (and by “some” I mean “a lot of”) elections over this issue. This is a theme that I’ve repeated ad nauseum here. Republican politicians do respond to pressure. It’s just that the only pressure they’ve felt lately (with the brief exception of the 2018 election) is in their primaries, with their increasingly deranged and authoritarian base. Losing races they had expected to win, whether statewide or in their friendly gerrymandered districts is the one thing that could change that pattern. Until then, why not keep doing what they’re doing, which is to say whatever they feel they need to say to whoever they’re talking to, and then doing nothing while we move on to whatever happens next? Why mess with a winning formula?