Harry Reid Holds Off Tea Party at Gunpoint: Margaret Carlson

Some choices look easy. Between Nevada Republican Sharron Angle, an ardent believer in the constitutional right to bear arms anywhere from a national park to a corner bar, and one of Washington’s most powerful Democrats, who would the National Rifle Association choose?

If you said Angle, that’s the easy choice, and probably the wrong one. The NRA’s political arm has yet to make endorsements, but gun owners around the U.S. are worried, with evident reason, that the group may be prepared to forsake Angle for her Democratic opponent, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader.

Angle’s devotion to gun rights is unquestioned. In one interview, she coyly wouldn’t say whether she was carrying a concealed weapon because she didn’t want the bad guys to know.

When “government becomes tyrannical,” she has said, it’s the citizenry’s right to lock and load.

And she fretted: “People are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, ‘My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?’ I’ll tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.” She later acknowledged that comment might have been “a little strong,” and that, lest the trigger-happy among her supporters misunderstand her, she meant “take him out of office.”

Reid occasionally flirts with the NRA, as Western Democrats must, but mostly breaks its heart. He helped secure land and funding for a 2,900-acre park for shooting and gamely took down clay birds with his 12-gauge shotgun at the opening in March. He worked to keep insurance premiums from being raised on those who keep a gun at home and supported a carve-out exempting the NRA from new campaign-donation disclosure requirements.

Kagan Test

The gun owners’ bill of particulars against Reid is longer. He supported the confirmation of Attorney General Eric Holder, who strongly favors gun limits. He is currently pushing the confirmation of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, a vote the NRA is going to score. That should bring Reid’s rating, even grading on a curve, to a gentleman’s “C” from the “B” he received the last time he ran, in 2004.

The Gun Owners of America, by contrast, gives Reid an “F.” So why is the NRA on such a different page?

While his headquarters may be in Fairfax, Virginia, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre is part of the Washington firmament. And like the Christian Coalition before it, LaPierre’s NRA is forgetting the faithful -- who, online, are up in arms about a possible Reid endorsement.

Big Win

LaPierre has a lot to crow about. The NRA just won a ruling from the Supreme Court that states and cities are bound by the Second Amendment. What did the rank-and-file, those weekend minutemen or militia men or patriots in camouflage, have to do with that?

At the core, LaPierre has more in common with the heretic Reid than with a sweaty believer like Angle. She’s proven to be a strong brew even by Tea Party standards.

Before Republicans muffled her, she was for gradually privatizing Social Security, defunding the new health-care system, abolishing the income-tax code and massively cutting the federal government, including eliminating the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, which probably are too busy trying to clean up the Gulf of Mexico to pay much attention to Nevada politics. Even right-wing voters in her state must gulp at her desire to make Yucca Mountain home to the country’s nuclear waste.

(For more Angle unplugged, see her primary-campaign website, which Nevada Democrats salvaged after Angle tried to bury it, like a radioactive fuel rod deep under Yucca.)

Firm on Abortion

Asked if she’d permit abortion in the case of a teenager raped by her father, Angle said no -- two wrongs don’t make a right, and the teenager should make lemonade from lemons.

Such views aren’t likely to attract the growing number of independents in Nevada’s suburbs and are splitting the state GOP. Some influential Nevada Republicans aren’t supporting Angle, whom they view as the accidental nominee, winning because her opponent suggested the uninsured should get health care in exchange for live poultry. Reno Mayor Bob Cashell called Angle an “ultra right-winger” whom he couldn’t support over Reid.

A reluctant supporter, former Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that she cautioned Angle, “Sharron, you’re scaring the bejesus out of everybody.”

One pragmatic concern is that if Reid loses and Republicans don’t retake the Senate, the NRA leadership would be faced with a new majority leader who wouldn’t know one end of a rifle from the other. One likely candidate to replace Reid in that scenario is Charles Schumer, Democrat of -- dare I say it? -- New York.

No one should blame NRA leaders for preferring the devil they know to a city slicker who would pry guns from the fingers of law-abiding citizens in a New York minute. Majority Leader Schumer: that’s enough to scare the bejesus out of any gun owner, concealed or not.

(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Margaret Carlson in Washington at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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