The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative (NRA-ILA) issued an election postmortem claiming that the public has been misled by the media “about the effectiveness of NRA campaign spending.” The release is the latest attempt by the NRA to sustain what has been a false media narrative about the NRA's ability to influence elections.
Despite the NRA's protestations, the outcome on Election Day could hardly have been worse for the gun organization. The NRA failed to achieve its main goal, the defeat of President Obama, and also backed the losing Senate candidate in six out of seven races where the NRA spent more than $100,000. Over two-thirds of House incumbents who lost their seats were endorsed by the NRA. The non-partisan Sunlight Foundation concluded that less than one percent of $10,536,106 spent by NRA Political Victory Fund went to races where the NRA-backed candidate won.*
These results do not comport with the widely-accepted media narrative that the NRA is an electoral powerhouse. Despite research by American Prospect contributing editor (and former Media Matters staffer) Paul Waldman proving that the impact of both NRA campaign contributions and endorsements is overblown, the fable of NRA influence has persevered. Slate's Brian Palmer encapsulated this narrative in July when he wrote that the NRA “can reliably deliver votes” and “is considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country.”
Although mythology surrounding the NRA's power has persisted for years in the media, that façade appears to be crumbling in the wake of the 2012 elections. An article by The Hill titled “Report: NRA shoots blanks this election,” highlighted the NRA's ineffective spending and noted that the Sunlight Foundation's report “challenge[s] the popular political wisdom that the NRA is among Washington's most influential lobbying forces and that candidates who buck their agenda do so at their own peril.” The Washington Post offered similar analysis in an article titled “National Rifle Association shut out on Election Day” that cited the Sunlight Foundation's conclusions.
As an attempt to continue projecting itself as an organization that can determine the outcomes of elections, the NRA is now touting the success of three state ballot initiatives preventing states from banning hunting as evidence that money given to the NRA was well spent.
But the hunting ballot initiatives -- which were not even opposed by NRA nemesis the Humane Society -- are not what the 2012 elections were about for the NRA. In 2011, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre announced an “All In” campaign to remove President Obama from the White House that compared a potential Obama second term to a 2004 tsunami that killed over 250,000 people in South Asia.
LaPierre explicitly stated the NRA's desired outcome for the 2012 elections: “Either we defeat Barack Obama ... or we lose this election and lose it all.”
It might seem like a stretch to compare an election to one of the deadliest disasters in modern history.
This year's election could prove the most disastrous in the history of this country. Why? Because this election will decide whether Americans remain free.
There's no simpler, more accurate or exact way to say it--it's all or nothing.
Either we defeat Barack Obama and retain all the benefits of our pro-gun victories over the past 30 years--from the Firearms Owners' Protection Act and the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, to the Right-to-Carry revolution, Castle Doctrine, hunter protection and landmark victories in the U.S. Supreme Court--or we lose this election and lose it all. [emphasis original]
A NRA membership drive website launched in July, www.AllInNRA.com, made it clear that “All In” was about defeating Obama, and not about protections to hunting and fishing that the Humane Society deemed “inconsequential and merely window dressing.” After an introduction by LaPierre warning “everything we love about America, all the freedoms our forefathers fought for, all of it is under attack by Barack Obama,” viewers were treated to images of civil unrest and violence.
Leading up to the election, the “All In” campaign continued to be the centerpiece of the NRA's efforts. On November 2, NRA-ILA reaffirmed that the 2012 elections were about candidates and not ballot initiatives, issuing a press release stating, “All election season, NRA has been urging its members and supporter to go 'All In!' to ensure candidates who support the Second Amendment are elected on November 6.”
*These numbers have been updated to reflect the release of additional information by the Sunlight Foundation concerning the NRA's independent expenditures during the 2012 elections.