President Donald Trump's remarks following this weekend's mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, may have been long on rhetoric and short on details, but it was good politics — at least from his point of view.
1. The president's statement was effective salve to his base. He was dignified and forceful when he said what his critics doubted he'd ever say. And his renewed support for the death penalty aligns with the theology of law and order, which has a special resonance among conservative Republicans and many blue collar Democrats.
2. His denunciation of white nationalism was a first for him. It is unlikely to move those on the left, but it robs opponents of a powerful talking point. Perhaps more important, it should play well (or at least reasonably well) with college-educated, suburban voters who will play an important role in the 2020 election.
3. His focus on software — short of background checks — creates the illusion of action. Trump once said he favored background checks, but reversed course after meeting with the National Rifle Association. Floating the idea of "red flag" legislation Monday, such as that adopted recently in Massachusetts, was a tease. This policy, which allows an individual to petition courts for expedited action to remove a weapon from an allegedly unstable individual, is usually seen by gun control advocates as a way to close a loophole in already existing gun control regulations. But Trump didn't propose anything concrete in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings. In any case, it's within the realm of the possibility that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could scotch this idea.
4. Hardware, large-volume magazines for multiple rounds of ammunition and semi-automatic weapons of the kind popularly referred to as assault rifles, were not mentioned. This is sacred ground for the NRA.
5. Criticizing a popular culture that celebrates violence is never a bad move for presidents of either party. Doing something about it is another matter. When it comes to video games, which Trump singled out, there is no evidence that a connection exists between digital violence and real life mass murders. Given the global ubiquity of gaming, digitally infused nations — such as Japan, which has strict gun regulations — do not suffer the pains of American-style mass murder.