The conspiracy theory convention- POLITICO


THE NEW GUN-RIGHTS ADVOCATE DEFENSE: CONSPIRACY THEORIES — We all know the GOP’s well-worn retorts to calls for additional gun restrictions: People kill people, not guns. Mental health was the real problem, etc.

But at the annual NRA conference in Houston, a new defense emerged — one rooted in conspiracy theory: that the left somehow wanted — or even shepherded — Texas’ latest tragedy that left 19 elementary school kids and two adults dead, seeking to push an agenda and try to steal law-abiding citizens’ guns.

At least that’s the top takeaway from our colleague David Siders, who attended the pro-gun rights confab Friday, interviewed a bunch of attendees and found a surprising amount of pushback not rooted in reality. Here’s a sampling:

— “Why did it happen three days ago?” asked JIM HOLLIS, a lifetime NRA benefactor from St. Louis. “I’m not sure that there are not forces someplace that somehow find troubled people and nurture and develop them and push them for their own agendas.”

— “This is all propaganda,” said ANA CHAMBERS, who attended with her husband, pointing to the TV cameras and protests calling for gun control. “They’ll use anything to make us look bad.”

— “It’s straight out of a playbook,” another told Siders. Full story here, and NYT’s Glenn Thrush has a similar takeaway in his own story about the conference

There was a time when comments like this would have been considered rare — and completely unacceptable by people in both parties. But in recent years, the explosion of conspiracy theories on the right have changed that expectation. So too has the prevalence of QAnon in some GOP circles.

Meanwhile …  

A TALE OF TWO PRESIDENTS — President JOE BIDEN and the first lady are traveling to Uvalde, Texas, on Sunday to meet with the grieving families of the victims. This follows Biden’s meeting with the next of kin to those who were murdered in the Buffalo shooting earlier this month.

Then, there’s the man who might challenge him for the presidency in 2024: former president DONALD TRUMP, who doubled down on gun rights at the NRA’s meeting Friday — at a politically precarious moment that gun rights supporters won’t forget.

ICYMI: Trump called for a moment of silence for the victims and read out each of their names, before accusing the left, including Biden, of wanting to take away gun rights. The former president, who privately wanted to pass gun control measures while in office (everyone should read Michael Bender’s Friday NYT story about this), also called for making it easier to commit mentally ill people to institutions and for school security systems to be better armed. He even taunted Texas GOP politicians — Gov. GREG ABBOTT, Sen. JOHN CORNYN and Rep. DAN CRENSHAW — who pulled out of in-person appearances at the NRA conference in recent days, albeit not by name. Jonathan Allen and Allan Smith have more for NBC

COULD THIS AFFECT HILL NEGOTIATIONS? — There’s no doubt that Trump’s endorsement power has waned, but could his words shaming anyone looking at gun restrictions chill fledgling bipartisan talks on Capitol Hill? We’ll soon find out. These talks already face a serious uphill climb, coming just months before the midterms.

Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

BIDEN’S SATURDAY — The president is delivering the commencement address at the University of Delaware this morning.

VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SATURDAY — The VP and second gentleman DOUG EMHOFF have already departed Washington for Buffalo, N.Y. Still to come:

— Noon: Harris and Emhoff will go to the memorial service for RUTH WHITFIELD, one of the victims in the recent Buffalo mass shooting.

— 2:20 p.m.: Harris and Emhoff will depart Buffalo to head back to D.C.



1. STEFANIK VS. BANKS (AND CARLSON?): House GOP Conference Chair ELISE STEFANIK’s (N.Y.) star has risen so high that she’s being talked about as a 2024 VP pick. But if she’s ICARUS, here comes the sun: DONALD TRUMP JR. allies are warning Stefanik world to stop seeding negative coverage of Rep. JIM BANKS (R-Ind.) and his aide BUCKLEY CARLSON, TUCKER’s son, report Olivia Beavers and Meridith McGraw. “Intermediaries for Trump Jr.’s camp conveyed to Stefanik backers that they believed she had crossed a line by bringing up Carlson’s child,” they report, though POLITICO couldn’t independently confirm that she’d actually done so.

2. THE TRUMP CARD: Yes, it’s yet another story on how recent primary results are affecting Trump’s grip on the GOP. But the latest from NYT’s Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman also contains some striking new data points: His behemoth online fundraising abilities are not what they once were. From September to March, his average daily total raked in via WinRed fell from $324,633 to $202,185. His fundraising committee has fallen from about 20% of WinRed’s donations to about 14%. And though he still looms large, his recent high-profile primary flops “have emboldened Mr. Trump’s rivals inside the party to an extent not seen since early 2016.”

3. THE TRUMP INVESTIGATIONS: A flurry of incremental news landed Friday on the probes into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Fulton County, Ga., D.A. FANI WILLIS has subpoenaed Secretary of State BRAD RAFFENSPERGER and several others from his office in her investigation, CNN’s Sara Murray and Jason Morris scooped. NYT’s Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim add that there could be as many as 50 witnesses subpoenaed to testify before Willis’ grand jury starting next week. Various potential charges range widely, covering everything from racketeering to the “alternate electors” scheme. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s GREG BLUESTEIN is also expected to be subpoenaed, though the paper said they’d fight it.

Meanwhile, the federal investigation has now encompassed interviews with Republicans in both Georgia and Michigan about the alternate electors, per CNN’s Katelyn Polantz. “Investigators are looking at whether the Trump campaign played a role in the submission of false election certificates.”

4. WHY GUN CONTROL ALWAYS LOSES: Groups advocating gun restrictions have surged over the past decades, expanding in size and fundraising. But other than some limited victories at the state level, they’ve failed to get restrictions across the finish line in Washington, WSJ’s Natalie Andrews reports. That’s largely due to unchanging Republican opposition to any gun control, along with higher spending from gun rights groups and the issue’s greater salience with pro-gun rights voters, they say. (Republicans say advocates have failed simply because “the Second Amendment is a bedrock American principle.”)

5. INTERESTING MIDTERMS READ: Plenty of New Jersey politico
s have left Democratic Rep. TOM MALINOWSKI for dead, following an ethics investigation and an unfavorable redistricting outcome. But the congressman is hoping that backlash to the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade could save him among well-off suburban women in his district, Matt Friedman reports this morning. Republican frontrunner TOM KEAN JR., seeking a rematch from two years ago, calls himself “pro-choice” but has voted against abortion rights bills at the state level; he mostly hasn’t touched the issue this year.

6. QUICK ELECTIONS HITS: Having been booted from the ballot, Michigan GOP gubernatorial frontrunner JAMES CRAIG said he’s thinking about a write-in campaign if he’s not able to get back on, per the Detroit News. … AARON LIEBERMAN dropped out of the Arizona governor’s race Friday, leaving two major Democrats in the race, per the Arizona Republic. … QAnon supporter and frequent failed candidate JO RAE PERKINS has officially won the Oregon GOP Senate primary, per the AP.

7. WHAT THEY’RE READING IN LOUISIANA: After a high-profile, fatal arrest of a Black driver, Gov. JOHN BEL EDWARDS and his attorneys watched a body-camera video of the incident half a year before prosecutors even knew it existed, AP’s Jim Mustian and Jake Bleiberg reveal in an investigation from Baton Rouge. “While the Democratic governor has distanced himself from allegations of a cover-up in the explosive case by contending evidence was promptly turned over to authorities, an Associated Press investigation based on interviews and records found that wasn’t the case with the 30-minute video he watched.”

8. KNOWING JONATHAN CERVAS: NYT’s Jesse McKinley profiles the special master who created New York’s new congressional districts, an independent from Pennsylvania and gerrymandering expert who calls his own views “pro-democracy” and hates politics. “He says he’s been surprised by the attention paid to his lines, if a little disappointed by the concerns over the electoral consequences. ‘Everyone was focused on the horse-race politics, and nobody was focused on how clean our map was,’ he said.”

9. THE FUTURE IS (NOT QUITE) NOW: High gas prices around the country could help accelerate the transition to electric vehicles that Democrats crave — but first they’ll have to pay a political price, report Alex Daugherty, Josh Siegel and Ben Lefebvre. “Electric vehicles are still too expensive for many American households — and the stuttering supply chain means they’re also hard to find, with some automakers warning of possibly yearslong waits to buy their most popular models.” And attempts to ease Americans’ path to EVs in Congress haven’t succeeded.


— Russia’s forces have advanced, capturing Lyman and engaging in street combat in the crucial city of Sievierodonetsk. The shift in momentum in Ukraine’s east is “sparking fears that Russia could be poised for a bigger breakthrough,” per Bloomberg.

— ICYMI: The U.S. is planning to provide heavier backup for Ukraine with the Multiple Launch Rocket System, CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Natasha Bertrand and Alex Marquardt scooped.

— The Heritage Foundation’s change from hawkish heavyweight to isolationist fighter against Ukraine aid in Congress marks a “profound shift” for an organization leaning more into Trumpist populism on foreign policy, NYT’s Catie Edmondson reports.

— The first independent report from dozens of leading genocide scholars concludes that “Moscow is inciting genocide and committing atrocities intended to destroy the Ukrainian people,” CNN’s Ivana Kottasová reports.

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 16 keepers

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“What are you willing to do?” by the London Review of Books’ James Meek: “If it is a real danger that civil war may threaten democracy, it is also a real danger that democracy may die because its defenders refuse to start one.”

“He Was a World-Renowned Cancer Researcher. Now He’s Collecting Unemployment,” by Common Sense’s Suzy Weiss: “Behind the fall of David Sabatini, ‘one of the greatest scientists’ of his generation.”

“Dan Snyder’s Secret Weapon: Republicans,” by POLITICO Magazine’s Michael Schaffer: “Investigators are circling and fellow NFL owners are fuming. But on Capitol Hill, D.C.’s least popular man is a surprise partisan cause.”

“The Rise and Fall of America’s Environmentalist Underground,” by Matthew Wolfe in the NYT Magazine: “This year, one of the last fugitives of the Earth Liberation Front pleaded guilty to arson — at a moment when climate activists are again flirting with radical ideas.”

“The reinvention of a ‘real man,’” by WaPo’s Jose Del Real in Buffalo, Wyo.: “In cowboy country, a father and husband tr
oubled by suicide reimagines American masculinity, one conversation at a time.”

“What It Feels Like to Lose Your Child in a Mass Shooting,” by The Atlantic’s Elaine Godfrey: “Nicole Hockley describes her son’s death in the Sandy Hook shooting, and the long grieving process that the parents of 19 children in Uvalde now face.”

“Guy Fieri, Elder Statesman of Flavortown,” by NYT’s Matt Flegenheimer: “TV’s spike-haired rhapsodist of roadside eats is still playing it for laughs. But he’s also winning food-world respect as a sort of graying eminence.”

— From the archives:“What Bullets Do to Bodies,” by Jason Fagone for HuffPost’s Highline in April 2017: “The gun debate would change in an instant if Americans witnessed the horrors that trauma surgeons confront every day.”

Harry Styles is partnering withEverytown for Gun Safety on his North America tour.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileoneisn’t backing down in his fight with Nancy Pelosi.

Four cities have tossed their hats in the ring for the 2024 Democratic National Convention, per NBC’s Natasha Korecki: Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and NYC.

SPOTTED at Smoke & Mirrors rooftop bar Thursday night toasting Carrie Pugh’s last day at HHS: Kamara Jones, Molly Doris-Pierce, Esmeralda Orozco, Billy Czerwinski, Sabrina Bousbar and Adeola Adesina. Pugh is launching 8821 Strategies and was previously the agency’s director of external affairs.

TRANSITIONS — Scott Yager is now environmental VP at the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. He previously worked as chief environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and is an EPA alum. … Shawn Gamble is joining Visions Federal Credit Union as government relations officer. He previously was a field representative in the office of Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.).

BIRTHWEEK (was Thursday): Deloitte’s William Hatheway

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) … Katharine Weymouth Rudy GiulianiJessica Anderson of Heritage Action … Diane DewhirstCoalter Baker of the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations … Natalie Yezbick of Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) office … Alpine Group’s Keenan Austin ReedMark Greenbaum of Rep. Bill Pascrell’s (D-N.J.) office … Lauren Mandelker … The 19th’s Emily RamshawAndy Stone of Meta … Lisa Wallenda PicardChris Downing … Uber’s Josh GoldJulie Hershey Carr … Herald Group’s Colin Hensel … Edelman’s Chris DonahoeRobb Harleston … DHS’ Brian Kelly Adelle Nazarian … former Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa), Scott Rigell (R-Va.) and Tom Petri (R-Wis.) … Christy Felling Marty Kramer

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

CBS “Face the Nation”: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) … Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson … Uvalde County Commissioner Ronnie Garza … Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) … Nicole Hockley … Jaclyn Corin.

FOX “Fox News Sunday,” guest-anchored by Sandra Smith: Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) … Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Panel: Brit Hume, Olivia Beavers and Juan Williams.

ABC “This Week”: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) … Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). Panel: Donna Brazile, Susan Glasser, Jonathan Martin and Ramesh Ponnuru.

CNN “State of the Union”: Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez … Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) … Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) … Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).

NBC “Meet the Press,” with a special edition focused on gun policy: Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) … Cedric Alexander … Stephanie Rawlings-Blake … Tony Monalto. Panel: Cornell Belcher, Pat McCrory, Ashley Parker and Ali Vitali.

MSNBC “The Sunday Show”: David Hogg … Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) … Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow … Marc Morial … Robin DiAngelo … Tim Wise … Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.).

CNN “Inside Politics”: Charles Ramsey … Frank Smyth. Panel: Jonathan Martin, Laura Barrón-López, Lauren Fox and Phil Mattingly.

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Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Garrett Ross, Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.

Correction: Friday’s Playbook mistakenly referred to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) by his former title of Senate Republican whip.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of Playbook misstated who scooped the CNN story. It was Jason Morris.