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Conservatives In The Age Of Trump


This is a pretty important week for conservatives. Their annual Conservative Political Action Conference kicks off today just outside Washington, D.C. Now, one of their big sponsors is the National Rifle Association, and that makes for an interesting moment because just yesterday, students and parents from a high school in Florida were confronting President Trump about gun violence at a listening session. Just listen to Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed at the school. He was addressing the president.


ANDREW POLLACK: Fix it. It should have been one school shooting, and we should have fixed it. And I'm pissed 'cause my daughter, I'm not going to see her again. She's not here. She's not here. She's at - in North Lauderdale at whatever it is, King David Cemetery. That's where I go to see my kid now.

GREENE: I want to bring in Matt Schlapp. He's head of the American Conservative Union, which runs this week's conservative CPAC conference, and he joins us from the conference. Mr. Schlapp, welcome.

MATT SCHLAPP: Hey. Great to be on, David.

GREENE: Well, it's it's nice to have you back. So the NRA sponsors your conference, but you had its executive off the public speaking schedule. Are you worried about the optics of this moment?

SCHLAPP: You know, we worry about everything, but we feel like it's the appropriate thing to do even at a really tragic time when - watching those parents and loved ones talk yesterday at the White House is something that affects everyone. And so that affects us too. But we think it's inappropriate to somehow hide from this conversation. Conservatives believe in the Second Amendment. They believe in the Bill of Rights. And it's not appropriate to go dark on talking about those topics just because a terrible tragedy happens.

I hope that people who address this topic on our stage do it understanding that people are in pain and that we are so close to - from this terrible tragedy and have the right and appropriate tone. But we've got to talk about our problems in society. We cannot back away from them, which is why what the White House did and what the president did yesterday is an important part of dealing with not just firearms and guns but violence.

GREENE: May I just clarify though, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, was not on your agenda initially. Were you trying to avoid the controversy here?

SCHLAPP: Not at all. Not at all. No, we announced Wayne LaPierre - I don't know if you follow me on Twitter - but I tweeted out that Wayne was coming weeks ago. He was always going to speak. We are...

GREENE: Before the shooting. I mean, after the shooting, it looked like he was not on your public schedule initially when it came out.

SCHLAPP: No. He's on our schedule. He's speaking. He was announced weeks ago. And we stuck - we are strong supporters of the NRA. Wayne LaPierre is my friend. If we're going to resolve these questions as a country, leaders on the Second Amendment like Wayne LaPierre have to be part of the conversation.

GREENE: Well, I want to move on just since we don't have much time. And President Trump...

SCHLAPP: I'll give you as much time as you want.

GREENE: OK. President - and we should have you back, and I'd love to talk more. Let me just ask you this. President Trump said that he is open to new gun restrictions, maybe raising the minimum age for purchasing certain firearms. As a conservative movement that is built on defending the Second Amendment, defending an ideology, how hard is it to work with a president who can be unpredictable in his positions like this?

SCHLAPP: Well, first of all, the Bill of Rights is not about ideology. These are clear words that are a contract with the American people and with our government. And so I think it's important that we understand that. As far as trying to solve these problems, including regulations on guns, everybody is open to solving these problems. And I think I'm open to having a better instant background check. I'm open to the concept of people not being able to modify guns to turn them into automatic weapons. I think the age of purchase is something that a lot of people are talking about. All of this has got to be - we've got to discuss all these options as a country. And we're going to do at CPAC too. Conservatives are a big part of this as well. I think America can handle this.

GREENE: I apologize. We hope we have much more time we can have you on to talk more. Matt Schlapp is head of the American Conservative Union. Thanks a lot.

SCHLAPP: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.