There she is, Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a conservative Republican and proud National Rifle Association supporter, smiling as she poses with a military-style rifle in a flyer that landed in voters’ mailboxes this week. It comes just days after 19 elementary schoolchildren and their two teachers were brutally murdered in their Uvalde, Texas, classroom by a gunman wielding a weapon like the one in Hartzler’s hands.
It’s grotesque. But not surprising.
This is fundamental mainstream GOP messaging these days. Because among the base, so the thinking goes, guns get votes.
And it falls right in line with the lie that commonsense gun laws, such as increased background checks, threaten some sacred liberty enshrined in the Constitution that cannot be changed for any reason.
But these poses go way past what used to be the typical campaign photo of a candidate toting a rifle in a bright orange vest and camouflage while hunting.
For goodness’ sake, Mark McCloskey — the Missouri lawyer who drew international attention after he and his wife pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters near their St. Louis mansion — actually uses an image of himself clutching a military-style rifle in that notorious moment on yard signs for his own Senate campaign.
Of course all Republican politicians aren’t running around flashing an AR-15, which is specifically designed for killing lots of people as fast as possible.
By the way, we all footed the bill for Hartzler’s card. It’s a piece of franked congressional mail that members send to constituents to keep them informed of their activity in Washington, D.C.
We asked Hartzler’s office about the timing of her mailer and were told it was processed “before the Uvalde tragedies,” and was intended to be delivered on May 13.
“Congresswoman Hartzler is praying for all those lost and their loved ones,” a spokesman in her office said. Anyone would have to be completely heartless not to extend that sentiment, given the horror in Uvalde and the murder of 10 Black people in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store the week before.
Maybe the flyer landing in mailboxes now was just bad timing, a coincidence. Planning a move like that would just be cruel. But for too many who practice today’s “dark MAGA” politics, cruelty is a campaign strategy.
The day after the Uvalde child massacre, Eric Greitens — the failed Missouri governor also running for Senate — sent out a fundraising email to his supporters that included a recent video of him firing weapons with Donald Trump Jr., along with the message: “We’re striking fear into the hearts of radical liberals and RINOS alike!”
Was that a coincidence too?
Hartzler and Greitens are among the Republicans seeking to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is in the race, too — unarmed, so far.
No one should be surprised that Hartzler, Greitens, McCloskey and other Second Amendment diehards think the big guns are the right political props for this moment. It may be just what their base wants to see.
But if Hartzler’s mailer was just bad timing and in no way intended to be insensitive, what about a followup apology?
This story was originally published May 27, 2022 4:45 PM.