Journalists have spent the last couple of days parsing and debating Donald Trump's recent comment that "maybe there is [something] the Second Amendment people" can do to prevent Hillary Clinton from nominating judges to the Supreme Court.
Was it a joke? Was it a call to assassination, or at least armed intimidation of elected officials? Was it a boast that gun proponents would vote for him in such numbers as to ensure Hillary won't be elected and thus won't have the chance to nominate judges? Nobody knows for sure — perhaps Trump least of all.
But as pundits debate Trump's true meaning, they're missing something important about his remark. His phrasing and word choice, particularly the words "the Second Amendment people," are extremely revealing of how Trump sees gun owners and where he sees himself in relation to them.
This is not the normal way a politician speaks, especially one who feels or wants to create a bond with the group he's speaking about, or identify with them in some way. The insertion of the definite article "the" puts the group at a distance and suggests he doesn't see himself as one of them, his NRA endorsement notwithstanding.
Trump uses the same sort of language to talk about groups he clearly is not close with or very knowledgeable about. "I love the Muslims"; "the Hispanics love me"; "I got huge support from the evangelicals"; "I have a great relationship with the blacks;" "ask the gays." Et cetera.
Unlike these other groups, of course, Trump, as a member of the NRA, is supposed to be a card-carrying member of "the Second Amendment people."
But if you consider yourself a supporter of the Second Amendment, you probably wouldn't say "the Second Amendment people." You'd say, "Those of us who cherish the Second Amendment" or something like that. Trump is supposed to be a Second Amendment person, but his language evinces no solidarity with them. Rhetorically, at least, he is as removed from them as he is from the Muslims and the evangelicals.
What's worse about Trump's comment (unless, of course, by "prevent," he was referring to gun owners' ability to vote to ensure Hillary doesn't win) is that it reinforces and legitimizes the Left's worst stereotypes about people who support the Second Amendment, which is that they are a bunch of violent lunatics. Of course, it's a slander on all gun owners. If the more than 100 million of them in the U.S. (or even just the NRA's 4.5 million members) were at all seriously inclined to engage in political violence or armed intimidation to get their way, this country would already be destabilized to the point of anarchy.
Trump did something similar in March when he talked about punishing women who have abortions. He made it clear he was trying to pander to pro-life conservatives, but because of his unfamiliarity with the issue, he did it in a way no pro-lifer ever would. In doing so, he only reinforced the Left's worst stereotype of those who oppose abortion: That their true goal is to punish women by putting them in jail.
Trump has spent the vast majority of his life as a strong supporter of abortion and an outspoken critic of Republicans who "walk the NRA line" and "refuse even limited restrictions" on gun rights. It's no wonder he doesn't see himself as a part of either group or know how to talk about or to them.
George Will once said that Mitt Romney speaks conservatism like a second language. Trump also has this problem, and in a much worse way.
Daniel Allott is deputy commentary editor for the Washington Examiner