At one point in a speech Tuesday explaining new background check rules for people who buy guns, President Obama cried. He paused to regain his composure and wiped tears from his face before continuing.
That’s not an easy face to scream at. So in responding to the newly-announced rules for gun sellers, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) decided to use a different one.
This is the page Cruz is using to invite supporters into the fold of his presidential campaign on Tuesday:
Accepting that invitation brings your web browser to a mostly-standard donation page that begins with the following text from Cruz:
“Today we have government of the lobbyists, by the lobbyists, and for the lobbyists. Now, the long knives are coming out because I dared to tell you and the rest of America the truth and expose what was really happening behind closed doors in Washington.”
Depending how you count, that’s at least one and probably two invocations of the venerated civic tradition of comparing one’s electoral enemies to violently repressive dictators.
The reference to the “Night of the Long Knives” and splash page image of President Obama’s face photoshopped over that of someone in a military helmet and a flashy tactical jacket are hardly new for Cruz.
In October, he described the first Democratic primary debate as “an audition for who would wear the jackboot most vigorously.” When pundits noted the Texas senator’s lengthy 2013 floor speech wasn’t actually a filibuster of Obamacare but an exercise in personal brand-building, he took time out from the non-filibuster to say that had such critics been alive in the 1940s, “they would have been saying, ‘You cannot defeat the Germans.’” He blamed the 2014 standoff at a Nevada ranch over Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay $1 million in grazing fees and fines on Obama’s supposed habit of “using the jackboot of authoritarianism to come against the citizens.” The stump speech he was using as of October featured a line about the “jackboots at the IRS.”
Coming on the heels of President Obama’s announcement of slightly stricter background check rules for would-be gun owners, this latest fundraising ploy is more than rhetorical flair.
The White House’s new policy slate is primarily designed to make the existing system of background checks for gun purchases more effective by eliminating a variety of workarounds that gun sellers and buyers have sought out over the years. It also funds research on gun safety technology and tightens rules for reporting a lost or stolen weapon.
Gun purchases have spiked and spiked again throughout Obama’s presidency. There are something like 89 civilian-owned guns for every 100 people in this country. And in response to numerous catastrophic mass shootings and frequent news attention to gang violence in his own home city of Chicago, Obama has for seven years now responded with impassioned speeches and calls for the American political system to act.
In response, the gun lobby has insisted he’s coming for your guns in much the same way Cruz is doing now. The National Rifle Association warned followers of a coming gun grab from the very beginning of a Senate debate in 2013 over legislation to overhaul the same background check system whose failures Obama is looking to correct unilaterally now. NRA head Wayne LaPierre sabotaged that process personally by insisting it was all a ruse to create a gun registry that would then lead to confiscations of weapons from law-abiding citizens, and the politicians his organization backs adopted his rhetoric. Senators eventually had to incorporate an amendment prohibiting the government from ever creating such a registry in an effort to salvage the bill, which died anyway.