Those expecting President Donald Trump to make news during his speech Friday afternoon at the NRA's annual convention came away disappointed. Trump didn't unveil any new policies, aside from a sarcastic comment that banning guns makes as much sense as banning vans or trucks. He didn't say the name Stormy Daniels, and talk of Russia or potential collusion was limited to brief aside about his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Friday's Trump was the president at his most comfortable, preaching to an arena-sized choir. He stoked their fears, reassured them of his love and made it clear that there is no better protection than a good guy with a gun.
The NRA's Leadership Forum, as Friday's event was officially known, began with the worst imaginable cover of "Baby Got Back" and a song about Billy Graham's Bible and Willie Nelson's guitar by a country artist Joe Nichols. Then there was a series of media-baiting videos, including NRA talking head Dana Loesch's infamous "violence of lies" piece condemning liberal media, the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem.
Finally, almost two hours after the event's promised start time, Vice President Mike Pence appeared before about 7,000 National Rifle Association supporters.
The NRA, Pence told the crowd, is lucky that Trump is in the White House.
"He told you you'd have a friend in the White House," Pence said. "I'm here as his vice president to say that you have two friends in the White House. [While we're in office,] the right of the people to keep and bear arms will not be infringed."
He and the president came to Dallas, Pence said, mostly to thank the NRA and its members for their defense of Constitution.
"There is no greater champion of America's history of gun ownership than you, the men and women of the National Rifle Association," Pence said. The work you do is essential to preserving our freedoms at every level of the American government."
Protests and criticisms against the NRA are simply a result of media representations, Pence said.
"They won't tell the whole story about firearms and America. They focus on the tragedies and the heartbreak, but too often in the media, they ignore it when well-trained, law-abiding citizens save lives," the vice president said. "The Second Amendment is a shield for the rights of all Americans, and it's a shield for the most vulnerable."
Chris Cox, the principal political strategist for the Institute of Legislative Action, the NRA's lobbying arm, next told the cheering crowd there's never been a worse time to be a terrorist or an "overpaid celebrity or athlete who disrespects the flag, thanks to the president." Then, after a wordless appearance onstage by the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., it was the president's turn.
"We love Texas," Trump said before rattling off a string of endorsements for Texas Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Pete Sessions, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Paxton's wife, Angela, who's running for state Senate. When the president got to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, he joked about Hurricane Harvey's aftermath.
"Greg, I fully endorse you. You are endorsed," Trump said. "He kept calling and calling, [saying] we need more money. And you know what, we gave it to you."
Like Pence, Trump went to the NRA convention to praise the NRA.
"I want to thank the members of the NRA who defend our rights, our liberty and our great American flag," Trump said. "The rights given to us by God, including the right to self-defense."
No one, he said, would come for NRA members' guns as long as he was president.
"Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never ever be under siege as long as I am president," Trump said.
As he does in nearly every speech, Trump soon veered from the topic at hand, telling the almost exclusively white crowd about what he views as his growing popularity among black voters.
"Kanye West must have some power," Trump said, "because I doubled my African-American poll numbers. We went from 11 to 22 in one week. Thanks, Kanye." (We assume he meant 11 percent to 22 percent, not 11 people to 22 people.)
The media doesn't tell people about those numbers, Trump said, before touching on Russia for the first and only time during his speech.
"All we hear about is this phony Russia witch-hunt," Trump said to a booing crowd before distancing himself from Manafort, who is facing criminal bank fraud and other charges. "Paul Manafort's a nice guy, but he worked for me for a very short period of time, literally a couple of months."
The charges filed against Manafort by special counsel Robert Mueller are unrelated to him or his campaign, Trump said.
"Let me tell you, folks, we're all fighting battles, but I love fighting these battles," Trump said.
Before eventually circling back to the Second Amendment and the NRA's mission, Trump took a moment to pat himself on the back for the thawing relations between North and South Korea. His rhetoric last year — he called Kim Jong Un "Little Rocket Man" and threatened "fire and fury" against North Korea — helped the two countries and the United States get to where it is today.
"Let me just tell you this: We're really doing well with North Korea," Trump said. "They said, 'Oh, it's going to be terrible,' when the rhetoric was rather sharp. I'm not going to use it now. They were saying, 'This is going to be nuclear war.' No, you know what gets you nuclear war? Weakness gets you nuclear war."
Returning to guns and gun rights, Trump addressed the 17 gun deaths at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the aftermath of which has led to sustained momentum for increased gun control. The keys to making sure events like the Parkland killings and other mass shootings happen with less frequency, Trump said, are getting rid of gun-free zones and arming teachers.
"There's no sign more inviting to a mass killer than a sign that declares, 'This school is a gun-free zone,'" Trump said. "Come in and take us."
No one, Trump said, is better equipped to protect students than their teachers.
"These teachers love their students, and they aren't going to let anybody hurt their students, but you have to give them a chance," Trump said. "We support the Second Amendment not only because we believe in freedom but because we trust in everyday talented people."
Without everyday people with guns, Trump said, Texas would still be part of Mexico.
"This proud state would not exist if not for a handful of defiant people who refuse to give up their rights more than two centuries ago," Trump said before relating the story of the Battle of Gonzalez to the crowd.
When Trump got to the good part, the part about the flag the Texans in Gonzalez flew to taunt the Mexican army that wanted to take their cannon, the crowd shouted along.
"Come and take it!" Trump said, before the crowd gave him a standing ovation and started a "U-S-A, U-S-A" chant.
Trump told the crowd that anyone who came for their freedoms would have to come through him first.
"We will live free, and we will die free," Trump said.
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