The National Rifle Association is who we thought they were.
The nations’ foremost gun-rights group inserted themselves loudly — and expensively, to the tune of $75,000 — into the Tennessee House District 45 primary, pouring in thousands of dollars, erecting billboards and running radio and TV spots in an effort to oust Rep. Debra Maggart from office.
And it worked.
The NRA took issue with Maggart — who had regularly earned top ratings from the association — for her position on the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill. They asserted she was part of a cabal that kept the bill from a vote on the House floor.
As the House Republican Caucus chairwoman, the Hendersonville Republican was one of the state’s most powerful legislators, and the rest of the GOP leadership — the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and on and on — backed her in her primary battle against Courtney Rogers.
The NRA’s bucks effectively turned the primary into a single-issue race — there was precious little discussion of Maggart’s work getting other planks of the Republican agenda into law. No, this race was about one thing: a vote that never happened.
All those dollars quashed any memory of Ronald Reagan’s famous edict, the so-called 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Both Maggart and Rogers spoke plenty of ill. Maggart asserted Rogers had been deceptive about past bankruptcies and was misleading about Maggart’s support for gun rights.
Underneath it all, this race was a microcosm of what happens when one party has unchecked political power: infighting is the only sure result. Not to oversell it, but it was a battle for the soul of the Tennessee Republican voter.
There’s Maggart — despite her nearly flawless record on pro-gun legislation, cast as the establishment candidate who still sees property rights as the top priority for the GOP. There’s Rogers as the upstart, vociferously defending the right to bear arms pretty much everywhere, property owners’ wishes be damned.
Take a hard, uncomplicated line like that against the NRA’s Public Enemy No. 1 and the NRA has your back, and will even erect a billboard comparing Maggart — a darling of the right — to Barack Obama.
And when the NRA starts throwing its war chest around, voters are sure to follow the money right into the voting booth.