The Note: Trump the divider — or Trump the healer?

This national conversation has a ways to go before becoming a national movement.

ByABC News
February 23, 2018, 5:48 AM

— -- The TAKE with Rick Klein

This national conversation has a ways to go before it becomes a national movement.

Recent days have revealed some forces in American politics that have been around for a while, and intensified other forces that are likely to last.

What it didn’t do was solidify consensus on how to handle cultural and social touchstones that have long narrowed political debates.

The sense of empathy and bridge-building that marked the initial reaction to last week’s school shooting has melted into name-calling. Top officials from the NRA told a conservative gathering that “many in the legacy media love mass shootings,” and spread blame on Democrats, past administrations and even the current FBI.

President Donald Trump, who addresses the same audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference this morning, is meandering into policy areas that seem driven by NRA priorities.

This post-Parkland, Florida, period may yet be remembered for starting a sustained and powerful lobbying push, led by young, eloquent voices.

As for the president, a question lingers: Can a man who rose to power as a result of the nation’s many divisions be expected to help heal them?

The RUNDOWN with Emily Goodin

Some of the biggest names mentioned at Thursday’s CPAC gathering were Democrats who might challenge President Trump in 2020.

Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren each were defined as a Republican nemesis during the conservative confab.

Invoking their monikers were some of the top-billed GOP speakers, including NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre.

“Trump's election, while crucial, can't turn away the wave of these new European-style socialists bearing down upon us. I'm not just talking about Bernie Sanders. I mean, he's near the end of his career. But how about Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bill de Blasio, Andrew Cuomo, Cory Booker, Christopher Murphy and Keith Ellison?” LaPierre said.

PHOTO: The National Rifle Association's (NRA) Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Oxen Hill, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.
The National Rifle Association's (NRA) Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Oxen Hill, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Defining your opponent can be an effective opening move in the campaign war. And their mention gives hint to whom Republicans are eying headed into the 2020 election.

Also garnering a mention was the GOP’s favorite boogeyman – or woman – in this case: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“It would be a disaster for our cause if Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House again,” Vice President Mike Pence told the conservative crowd to great applause.

LaPierre also invoked her name, along with that of Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who is a strong advocate of gun control laws. “They hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom,” LaPierre said.

He did not mention the student survivors of the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting who lobbied state legislators in Florida and met with Trump at the White House.

The TIP with John Verhovek

GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y. is facing significant blowback after she claimed “so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats.”

Tenney, who has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, and whose central New York state district voted for President Trump by 16 points in the 2016 election, doubled down on her comments, saying the news media had distorted them.

“While we know the perpetrators of these atrocities have a wide variety of political views, my comments are in response to a question about the failure to prosecute illegal gun crime. I will continue to stand up for law-abiding citizens who are smeared by anti-gun liberal elitists," Tenney wrote in a statement released by her campaign.

National Democrats, and Tenney’s likely opponent this November, State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, are calling on her to apologize for injecting partisanship into the debate over gun control.

“This toxic rhetoric is shameful coming from an elected official and is a new low even for Claudia Tenney. She has disrespected the office she holds. Inserting politics into a national tragedy is beyond the pale and disgusting,” Brindisi said in a statement provided to ABC News.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called Tenney’s comments “unhinged, shameful and disgusting.”

While Tenney’s seat is reliably Republican, episodes like this demonstrate, that with 2018 approaching, candidates are going to have to tread carefully on an issue that continues to foment intense emotion across the country.


• President Trump will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference at 10:05 a.m.

• Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway also joins CPAC for an interview at 11:55 a.m.

• President Trump and the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull meet at the White House this afternoon and later hold a joint press conference.

• Rep. Joe Kennedy III will appear on ABC’s “The View” at 11 a.m.

• The National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch along with Gov. John Kasick, R-Ohio, and Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., will join ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday.


“I think the Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson. And Republicans are happily the party of Homer and Bart and Maggie and Marge.” – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Thursday, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference.


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Trump administration denies entry to Iranian Christian refugees. Dozens of Iranian refugees waiting in Austria to be resettled in the U.S. have now been denied entry by the Trump administration, according to refugee resettlement groups and the State Department. (Conor Finnegan)

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NRA chief cites ‘failures’ in school security, mental health system after Parkland shooting. National Rifle Association vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday just over a week after a deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida galvanized a national conversation on gun policy reform. (Hamilah Abdullah and Cheyenne Haslett)

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Star of France’s political right serves red meat to US conservative conference. After laying low for a year following her aunt’s humiliating election defeat, French hard-right firebrand Marion Marechal-Le Pen came roaring back at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, with a nationalist speech that cast France as a society overwhelmed by the European Union, Islam and secularism. (Steve Turnham)

An interactive report from Politico shows the state of play for gun legislation in Congress today, from concealed-carry to the assault weapons ban.

The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back on Monday for the latest.

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