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Ex-NRA chief looks beyond Trump in 2024 U.S. presidential race

Ex-NRA chief looks beyond Trump in 2024 U.S. presidential race

Ex-NRA chief looks beyond Trump in 2024 U.S. presidential race
David Keene says former president's biggest problem is he is 'all about the past'
Former NRA chief David Keene says the political rise of Donald Trump is a symptom of the American public feeling alienated from Washington.

MASAHIRO OKOSHI, Nikkei Washington bureau chief July 10, 2023 21:42 JST

WASHINGTON -- In the increasingly crowded race for the Republican nomination for U.S. president next year, the former chief of the National Rifle Association seems to be focusing on alternative candidates to former President Donald Trump.
The influential gun lobby endorsed Trump during his presidential run in 2016. But David Keene, the association's president from 2011 to 2013, told Nikkei that the decision should not be made "at this stage."
"Donald Trump is not about the future. He's all about the past," Keene said. He said he would instead vote for other candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis if he thinks they could win the White House.
Edited excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Many Republicans seemed disappointed in Trump after last year's midterm election. But his supporters seemed to have regained momentum, especially after he was indicted in March over an alleged hush money payment to an adult film star.
A: A lot of Trump supporters have been of the opinion, and not incorrectly, that from the day he was elected, or even before that, in 2016, that there has been a concerted effort to destroy him.
They are very defensive, and that binds them to him, because a lot of the attacks have not been on Trump -- they've been on them.
What you had was a growing sense in the public of an alienation from Washington. This was not caused by Trump. Trump's a symptom of it.
[Now] the White House decides -- and they've made this fairly clear in a number of ways -- that there's one way that they can reelect Joe Biden. And that's to get him to run against Donald Trump, because they can run a campaign in which you're not arguing that Biden is better; you're arguing that Trump is worse. That's a contest they think they would win.
Can DeSantis or somebody else sell themselves as the alternative to Trump? That's a tough one, because you can't join in to demonize the Trump base like the Democrats have. You can't start attacking those voters for "being so dumb they were for Trump," because they'll say, "Well, we may be dumb but we have a vote."

Q: At this year's Conservative Political Action Conference in March, Trump in a speech said, "I am your retribution."
A: Donald Trump is not about the future. He's all about the past. It's all about getting even, it's all about, "They cheated me."
I always say if you think they're grateful for what you did, ask Winston Churchill after World War II. "Nice job, Winnie," you know? Now you're gone, because they want to know not what you did yesterday -- they want to know what you're going do tomorrow.
Donald Trump doesn't go there. He just goes back. When you take everything else away, that's his biggest problem.

Q:  Given the importance of winning the presidential general election in 2024, it seems like the Republicans should choose another candidate in the party primaries who has a better chance of winning against President Biden.
A: Historically, primaries are not about who can win the general election. Primaries are about, "Who do I agree with? Who do I like? Who am I attracted to?"
While Donald Trump may be a weak candidate, so is Joe Biden, and so they're saying, "We could have it both ways. We could get the guy we like, and he can win, no matter what anybody says."

Q: Who would you vote for in 2024?
A: The people that I like that are never going to be president are [former Vice President] Mike Pence and [former Arkansas Gov.] Asa Hutchinson.
They're very decent people. I agree with almost everything that they say. I would go with one of these others, including DeSantis -- if I think he can win. And he's the "best bet" at this point, if he can take off. I'd go with some of the others as well.
I think it comes down to whether Ron DeSantis can take off while Trump is weakening. If DeSantis doesn't take off and Trump collapses, that's a whole different story. Then somebody will emerge, because they'll have some space in which they can grow.

Q: Do you think the NRA should endorse Trump again?
A: Not at this stage. We only rarely get involved in primaries because at this stage, in the Republican Party, usually all of the candidates are Second Amendment supporters. So we don't pick among them on that.
The 2016 race, where we went all-in for Trump, was -- and we were crucial in that race -- unique. There were two reasons.
One, nobody was spending any money for Trump in the summer of 2016. Secondly, about 30% of our members -- and the electoral strength of the NRA -- is throughout the Midwest. And the base of the NRA is not just conservative Republicans; it's working-class Democrats.
Here was a candidate who was appealing to them, who didn't really understand the issues that well but said, "I'm for it." And nobody was doing anything. So we jumped in and had disproportionate influence than we would usually have.

Q: The U.S. has seen numerous mass shootings in recent years. What are your thoughts on the current situation?
A: The issue is so polarized that there's no rational discussion.
The NRA position has always been, "We don't need more gun laws; we need to enforce the laws that we have." Today we're enforcing fewer of those laws.
The problem now is not the guns; the problem is the people. And we've had a breakdown in this country.
When I was a kid in Wisconsin, I used to take my shotgun to school [and] put it in the locker. Then on the way home, we'd go shoot pigeons. Nobody ever shot up the school.
There is something wrong. But you're not going to solve it by taking somebody's gun away from him.

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