Bloomberg’s war on the N.R.A. versus Schumer’s majority

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"The N.R.A. is going down," according to the cover of the new New Republic.

The story, by Alec MacGillis, gives considerable credit for the National Rifle Association's impending demise to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the vast resources he's preparing to deploy on behalf of new gun laws.

MacGillis says Bloomberg "is planning to hit the airwaves on a scale Washington has not fully grasped."

But there's a big gamble built in to Bloomberg's approach, which is premised on the idea that it's possible simultaneously to empower the Republican Party (by opposing vulnerable Democrats) and move Washington toward gun control. 

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As Michael Scherer notes, Bloomberg is essentially doing battle with other partisans of gun control, targeting red-state Democrats like Arkansas senator Mark Pryor, while other gun control advocates try desperately to preserve Democratic control of the Senate.

"The disagreement poses a dilemma for supporters of gun control for which there is no clear answer: Is it better to teach wavering Democrats that there is a cost to voting against gun control, even if it jeopardizes Democratic control of the Senate, which is needed to enact gun control? Or is it better to maintain Democratic Senate control even if it means that some red-state Democrats are more likely to vote against gun control to protect their right flank?"

The mayor has previously told the Democratic leadership, effectively, tough luck.

And again, this week, his team had a ready answer to their complaints.

“The fact that a Republican would get elected is irrelevant to our cause,” Howard Wolfson, a top adviser to the mayor, told the New Republic. “On this issue, a Republican would not be worse.”

That kind of statement reflects an evolution in Bloomberg's spending; the millions he spent in 2012 did not use guns as the sole criterion for his support.

But looking only at Pryor's background check vote also ignores the fact he supported extending the assault weapons ban in 2004, and carries only a C-minus rating from the N.R.A.

Arkansas' four House members, all Republicans, each have an A-rating from the N.R.A., as does Pryor's Republican colleague, Sen. John Boozman.

A Republican replacement would probably be significantly more pro-gun than Pryor, and a Senate controlled by Republicans would likely be much more inclined toward N.R.A. priorities than a Democratic one.

Tipping the balance could come with real costs. The N.R.A. has a long list of bottled-up legislative goals, starting with reciprocity for concealed-carry permits, a measure which Bloomberg has vocally opposed. (Though Bloomberg's side would appear to have a backstop in President Obama.)

Bloomberg's determination to get a scalp comes at an inconvenient time for Democrats, who are trying to defend their gains in 2008, when President Obama's coattails helped elect Democrats in otherwise red states.

That leaves very few vulnerable Republicans for Bloomberg, who hates appearing partisan, to target along with Democrats.

It also puts him in direct conflict with Sen. Chuck Schumer, a leading national voice (since long before Bloomberg enterested politics) for gun control who helped guide the party's victories in 2008 as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Schumer, who happens to be Wolfson's former boss, has publicly praised the mayor's contribution to the gun control cause, but has sometimes declined to comment on the mayor's specific tactics.

Reducing Schumer, who ranks third in the Senate's leadership, to the minority party would seem to have all sorts of far-reaching effects for Democratic priorities and for New York.

But with Bloomberg determined to match the N.R.A.'s narrow focus, none of that matters now.