Is the NRA still primarily an organization that advocates for Second Amendment rights or does it now share its core mission with what passes for the rest of the conservative movement, namely, “making the libs cry”? Before you answer, note the slogan on Grant Stinchfield’s shirt.

This is an ad and good ads rarely employ subtlety but maybe there’s a middle ground between “subtle” and “exactly what a left-wing parody of an ad aimed at right-wing populists would look like.” It’s also part of a trend at the NRA, whose splashiest ads over the past six months have had little to do with guns and a lot to do with broader left-wing villains like the media and Antifa. They’re not alone in their mission creep either: The Tea Party Patriots’ political arm put out an ad 10 days ago attacking Rod Rosenstein, who not only has nothing to do with the size of government, he’s not even answerable to viewers who watch the ad.

My read on mission creep in right-wing advocacy groups is that activists are struggling with ways to keep their donors motivated. No one’s worried about guns being taken away at a moment when the GOP’s in control of the government, leaving the NRA with little to agitate over. And no one’s worried about federal spending getting bigger when the GOP’s in control of the government, leaving tea partiers little to agitate over. (Spending *is* getting bigger, much bigger, thanks to those Republicans, to be sure. But no one’s worried about it because most “conservatives” don’t care about that issue on the merits, only as a cudgel to be used against Democrats.) Still gotta pay the bills, though, and alarmism about the media or Antifa or, uh, Rod Rosenstein is one way to keep people donating.

But there’s more to it than just scaring your audience into handing over their spare change. There’s truth to this:

Yeah, this isn’t just a right-wing thing. After Charlottesville the ACLU declared that it would no longer defend the free-speech rights of armed protesters. At least one local ACLU board member resigned after the group defended the rights of neo-Nazis to march there; other leftists have lobbied the group publicly to rethink its entire approach to free-speech rights. We live in a tribal age and no activist group is immune to the pressures of it. Just as the NRA’s membership skews heavily right and must be flattered, the ACLU’s skews heavily left and must be flattered too. The NRA ads are at worst a demagogic digression from its ostensible core mission but the ACLU changing its policy on defending protesters in certain cases is a partial *repudiation* of its own. Lobby groups being forced to toe strict, or stricter, partisan lines will get worse during Trump’s presidency, I suspect, because public reaction to him is so insanely polarized. His fans are unshakeable, his #Resistance opponents hate him with a passion. If you’re the NRA or ACLU, you’re better off pandering to your core audience than gambling on a more principled message with less partisan resonance.

In lieu of an exit question, here’s another recent NRA ad. No actual torching of newspapers here, although it’s implied that that’s what the press deserves. Exit question: Why would a gun enthusiast intent on destroying his TV use a sledgehammer? Pop in a magazine and start firing.

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