Did Newtown Really Wreck Obama's Second Term?

At the National Journal, Alex Seitz-Wald writes that Barack Obama’s second term was well on track until Adam Lanza came along and killed a bunch of kids. Then it all went pear-shaped for the president.


The Connecticut massacre set in motion a cascade of events that led the White House to burn through its only real window to accomplish its goals. The month before the shooting, Obama had won a convincing reelection and a modest popular mandate. One major liberal wish-list entry, immigration reform, seemed not only within reach but almost inevitable.

Immigration was in an almost impossible bipartisan sweet spot: a singularly important policy goal for Democrats that could be a political boon for both parties. For Republicans, it was a way to fix a demographic problem revealed by the 2012 election. Still, they’d have to move quickly. The populist Right that had torpedoed immigration reform under George W. Bush seemed quieted by defeat, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

Then Lanza’s rampage altered the debate in Washington. Suddenly, priority No. 1 wasn’t immigration reform but gun control. The base that had just elected Obama was clamoring for background checks and magazine-clip restrictions, threatening to desert the president before his second inauguration. Many in Washington, including Connecticut’s Democratic senators, were convinced that the much-feared National Rifle Association had become a “paper tiger.” The gun lobby’s muscle hadn’t been truly tested in almost a decade, and NRA head Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre press conference days after the shooting seemed to confirm that the emperor had no clothes.


The piece may be equal parts revisionist history and trolling. It omits Obama’s own decisions and how they have impacted his second term to date.

Obama was coming into term two already damaged by Benghazi plus three years of Obamacare controversy, among other things. The media downplayed the one, helping him, and mostly dismissed concerns about the latter, again helping him. Immigration reform was very much alive, but also controversial, with the media again helping Obama by downplaying the economic and rule of law problems with rewarding millions of illegal aliens with legal status. In the absence of a useful massacre it’s not a given that immigration would have gotten through the House in the same form it got through the Senate. The GOP was reeling from 2012 and saw that it had some problems. But consensus hadn’t built up to the point that the Senate’s immigration bill was a lock to win in the House.

While Seitz-Wald wants to blame the massacre itself for distracting Obama, it’s worth looking at Obama’s actual response to the tragedy. It was obvious early on that he was going to use it for political reasons. It was obvious that anti-gun left thought they finally had their moment to start a successful round of attacks on the Second Amendment.


The two things that ended up in the final legislative proposals would have made no difference to stop the tragedy at Sandy Hook. The “universal background check” checked a box that the anti-gun left has wanted to check for years. Ditto for magazine limits. Lanza’s attack tactics ended up providing evidence that magazine limits wouldn’t have made any difference. He jungle-taped magazines together and, first-person shooter style, is reported to have dropped and swapped magazines are firing just a few rounds so that he would never be caught by police as his magazine emptied.

The fact that the two main proposals would not have stopped the killer fed to accurate perceptions that Sandy Hook was being used opportunistically to further an agenda that Obama had already wanted to work “under the radar.” His confusion or dishonesty over how the killer really operated reinforced beliefs that Obama does not know much about guns, beyond knowing that he doesn’t like them.

Obama’s own actions ended up creating a massive surge in gun and ammunition sales — shortages lasted for months, thanks to him, and millions more Americans decided to arm themselves. They correctly believed that if the left’s first legislative moves against gun rights succeeded, there would be more.


The year moves along, and then we arrive at the government shutdown and Obamacare’s disastrous rollout. If Sandy Hook had never happened, Obamacare would still have emerged, with its pathetically dysfunctional website, its sticker shock, its doc shock, the exposure of Obama’s “If you like your healthcare, you can keep your healthcare” lie, etc. Obama had set himself on a course for disaster by signing that law and then mismanaging its rollout so badly that the media couldn’t ignore it.

You can choose to blame Obama’s current predicament on Newtown if you want, but doing so ignores the fact that Barack Obama is a hyperpartisan president whose choices and poor management are sinking his second term.


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