Back on December 17, 2012, Donald Trump had already reinvented himself as a Republican — leveraging his birther conspiracy theories into a high-profile endorsement event with Mitt Romney and becoming a Fox News mainstay.
But after the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, he was moved to agree with then-President Obama, tweeting that on the occasion of the December 16 prayer vigil, Obama spoke for “every American.”
President Obama spoke for me and every American in his remarks in #Newtown Connecticut.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2012
Here’s some of what Obama said:
Since I've been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we've hugged survivors. The fourth time we've consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America — victims whose — much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.
In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
Starting in George W. Bush’s second term, Democrats had largely dropped gun control as an issue. And the party leaders felt that decision helped them win elections in 2006 and 2008. But Sandy Hook, in part because of the particularly horrific circumstances and in part because of the timing so soon after Obama’s reelection, reinvigorated calls for gun control legislation. Ultimately, due to Republican filibuster, nothing came of the bipartisan legislation to strengthen background checks that Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) hashed out in the following weeks.
Trump’s tweet is a reminder of how, in that brief moment, it did seem that party lines might shift somewhat, but also of how much he’s transformed in the past five years.
Trump’s public remarks in Las Vegas had no hint of the main themes of the Obama speech that he praised, and the White House distributed talking points to allies and the press that were all about the futility of gun control. By 2012, Trump was firmly in the conservative camp. But he was also an independent, freewheeling celebrity who spoke his mind separately from the interest group politics and internal stakeholders of the GOP. Today, even though Trump’s personal relationship with GOP members of Congress and other “establishment” figures is often poor, on core issues he’s very much a party man who gives conservative interests what they want.