White House Republican hopefuls including Donald Trump descend on Indianapolis for the annual NRA conference on Friday, highlighting the gun lobby’s continued political potency even as the U.S. reels from the latest spate of mass shootings.
The conference of the National Rifle Association, the country’s leading gun-rights advocacy group, is taking place at a key moment in the Republican presidential campaign. A number of hopefuls, including Trump’s closest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, are deliberating if and when to jump into the 2024 race to challenge the former president for the nomination.
The parade of top-tier politicians shows that the NRA event remains a rite of passage for Republican hopefuls, despite the group itself being riven by corruption accusations, legal problems and media reports of dwindling membership.
The NRA is still the grand-daddy of the guns lobby. The NRA-endorsed candidate in a Republican primary is very important,” said Richard Feldman, a member and former NRA lobbyist.
Feldman said he expected the NRA to eventually endorse Trump because its most vocal membership base – which draws heavily from a white, rural and male population subset – remain supportive of him.
While in office Trump was broadly supportive of gun rights, but angered some activists in 2018 by banning the high-power gun attachments used in a 2017 Las Vegas shooting in which dozens of people were killed.
Trump’s campaign website says he will “always defend your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” but does not provide detailed policy proposals.
Even if the NRA does endorse Trump, the group, faced with a major lawsuit in New York and falling revenue according to some reports, is unlikely to provide the same financial support as in past elections.