President Trump has always been extremely adept at using social media — first to win the election, and then to keep his core supporters stirred up. In effect, he owns TBN, the Trump Broadcasting Network. Last year, he tweeted: “The Fake News media hates when I use what has turned out to be my very powerful Social Media — over 100 million people! I can go around them.”
But while Trump might control TBN, he does not have a monopoly on social media. Other forces and interests — including many opposed to Trump and his policies — are using the same platforms to generate their own “very powerful” movements.
The latest example emerged after the tragic massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Students promoting the hashtag #NeverAgain captured the public’s attention and helped generate a groundswell of support for tighter gun laws. In a new CNN poll, 70 percent backed stricter regulations, up from 52 percent last October.
The #NeverAgain campaign resembles the recent #MeToo movement that highlighted the issue of sexual harassment. Both are bottom-up, grass-roots crusades fueled by personal experience, not ideology, and both rely heavily on social media to connect like-minded people and amplify their message.
#MeToo has toppled many prominent figures in business and entertainment. Whether #NeverAgain will produce new legislation is very much an open question. Republican leaders in Congress cower before the National Rifle Association, which opposes virtually any alteration in existing rules.
If policy is slow to change, however, the politics of guns is already shifting. The student activists specifically targeted corporations that do business with the NRA — banks, airlines, insurance companies — and many quickly cut ties with the organization.
The students have added #VoteThemOut to their litany of slogans, and Republican strategists worry they will energize voters next fall — particularly moderate suburban women who might have voted for Trump, but doubt his character. Such voters have recently helped to elect Democrats as governor of Virginia and senator from Alabama.
The CNN poll reveals striking differences along gender lines: Seventy-seven percent of women favor stronger gun laws, versus 62 percent of men. Thirty-six percent of women view the NRA positively, versus 56 percent of men. Trump’s overall favorable rating is 35 percent, but among women, it drops to 29 percent.
The politics of the gun issue has always favored the NRA for one reason: intensity. The organization boasts 5 million members — a tiny fraction of the America population, but those members care fanatically about their rights. They tend to judge politicians on one overriding question: Are you for us or against us?
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, described the NRA’s influence to the Times this way: “Its most precious resource is perhaps the passion and political engagement of its members and its fans.”
Can the #NeverAgain movement somehow chip away at the NRA’s dominance of the legislative arena? Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who is co-sponsoring a bill to strengthen background checks for gun buyers, is cautiously hopeful. “I do think there are some members who were not supportive in the past who are reconsidering,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Perhaps. The NRA counter-attack will be ferocious, and courage is in short supply on Capitol Hill these days. But in November, the children inspired by Parkland across the country — and their moms, who represent a good portion of those coveted suburban women voters — will get the chance to show that passion and political engagement are not owned by one group or one president.
Steve and Cokie Roberts: can be reached at email@example.com.