An Update: It Ain’t the Mulberries

Excess flake can by an embarrassing problem, especially when it is not something that can be cleared up with shampoo. Even more so for Arizona, where it turns out that one Flake really is too many.

Senator Jeff Flake, that is. The junior Republican senator from Arizona last month, in trying to make the case justifying his vote against the background checks firearm bill, managed to make the case that maybe he just isn’t ready for the major leagues.

And as one might expect after that kind of preface, yes, Sen. Flake is back at it:

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is pushing back against attack ads that say he broke his promise to support passing new gun laws.

Flake, Senator Jeff Flake“If you are anywhere close to a television set in Arizona in the coming days, you’ll likely see an ad about gun control financed by NYC Mayor Bloomberg,” Flake wrote Friday on his Facebook page. “Contrary to the ad, I did vote to strengthen background checks.”

Flake is responding to ads from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (I) group that supports tightening gun laws. Recent advertising by the group accuses Flake of breaking his promise to help pass expanded background checks.

Flake voted against an amendment co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would have expanded background checks to include firearms purchases at gun shows and over the Internet. But Flake says he did not break his promise because he supported an alternate gun control proposal by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

The most obvious problem with this approach to the issue is that others have tried, and the tack doesn’t work. Indeed, Flake himself has already tried it, and, well, it didn’t work.

No, really.

Let us look back to early April, when Sahil Kapur explained the argument:

“Absolutely, I’m open to expanding background checks,” Asa Hutchinson, a former government official now working for the National Rifle Association, told CNN on Tuesday. Many believed Hutchinson was breaking from the NRA’s opposition to expanding the reach of criminal background checks. As it turns out, he wasn’t.

There’s a critical distinction to be made between universal background checks, a robust policy that would require criminal checks for virtually all gun purchases — and a more milquetoast proposal to beef up mental health information in existing databases. The former is championed by gun control advocates and experts who say it would have a significant impact. The latter is supported by the NRA and does nothing to make it harder for criminals to buy firearms at private sales or gun shows, where background checks are not required by law.

Hutchinson clarified that he was referring to the latter. “He meant expanding it to include more people into the national instant check system,” an NRA spokesman told CNN. “And by number of people, this is in reference to the quality of information within NICS.”

A more revealing example of this rhetorical game-playing comes via Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) spokeswoman Genevieve Rozansky, in response to a query from TPM on whether the senator still supports background checks as he publicly said he did after the Newtown, Conn., shootings.

“Senator Flake has consistently opposed universal background checks,” Rozansky wrote in an email. “He believes in stronger background checks, such as making sure mental health records are more efficiently integrated into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.”

Got that? In the same breath, Flake both opposes and supports background checks. What Flake actually supports is the NRA-backed policy of enhanced mental health reporting in existing background checks — not closing loopholes for people to avoid gun checks.

Flake has cosponsored legislation to that effect, with NRA-friendly Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Mark Begich (D-AK), all three of whom are up for reelection in 2014. It allows these senators to say they support “background checks” without doing anything to upset the powerful gun industry lobby.

We might note Sen. Flake’s place in the tale even then.

New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who also voted against the background check bill, has tried the same tack. Yet Flake found last month that the argument wasn’t winning any hearts and minds; his approval rating crashed, leading to the amateurish performance a few weeks ago. Ayotte, too, has seen her numbers falling, and even the kindest results show a continuing rise in her unfavorability.

We find ourselves witnessing the strangest of arcs:

• Flake sees numbers drop, tries “I support background checks” twist to no avail.

• Ayotte’s supporters, seeing her numbers drop, decide it is a good idea to imitate Flake’s maneuver, with results unclear by the most generous assessment.

• Flake, perhaps deciding it’s the in thing to do, revives the background checks twist.

How do they think this helps?

Perhaps bludgeoning repetition works when the drumbeat is war, but the market … ahem! … seems to be trending away from such sales pitches.

Memo to the GOP:

re: This is not working

You have to realize, this isn’t working.

As the sort of leftist for whom voting for Democrats is a concession to conservatism, it would seem that my best possible working scenario, were I president, would be to have an intelligent Republican opposition—while I spent my time pushing Democrats to enact a genuinely liberal agenda, Republicans would serve as the people’s bulwark. After all, who better than a fiscal conservative to make sure the Democrats don’t screw it up according to their long tradition of profound incompetence?

The part of that silly fantasy applicable here is that on firearms safety legislation, the jig is up. And note that formulation: firearms safety legislation. Set aside the wild conspiracy theories that officials don’t want to answer for in explaining their votes, and accept that something is necessary. And then do what you do best, which is supposed to be to make sure everyone else doesn’t screw it up. Remember? Inefficient government? Government doesn’t work? All that? So … finish up your four and twenty blackbirds stuffed in a pie and be constructive.


Look, this is going to happen. The worst-case scenario for Democrats is unrestrained power, but if you keep behaving as you are, that actually might happen.

And then, well, place your bets. What will they botch first? Hell and good intentions, friends.

The people want background checks to happen. You and the NRA are the only ones who don’t. Well, okay, there’s the guy who goes on that internet radio show hosted by the guy who fantasizes about shooting v—er . . . um . . . yeah. Never mind.

Gun SellbackYour nation is calling, friends. They need your help. Meanwhile some of you are actually forcing the public trust to put guns back into the public trust. And on a simple, straightforward issue like the background check issue, you’re trying to run around in this circle?

Come on. Please?

The numbers show there really isn’t any excuse for the vote. It seems Republicans know there isn’t any excuse. After all, the Democrats who buckled to NRA pressure got hit, too. And if the GOP had any direction to go, they would not be running around this hallucinogenic mulberry bush.

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