Donald Trump will speak at the NRA’s Annual Meeting today in Atlanta — the first sitting president to do so since Ronald Reagan in 1983. The Trace recounts the 14 steps it took to accomplish a gun-rights makeover for the penthouse-dwelling real estate mogul who once supported a ban on assault weapons and waiting periods for firearms purchases. To get to the White House, Trump had to convince the NRA that he was their kind of candidate. As he prepared to launch a presidential campaign in early 2015, Trump took a key first step by hiring Chuck Laudner, an Iowa-based political operative who secured for him an invitation to speak at the NRA annual gathering in Nashville that February.
Laudner’s bit of matchmaking marked the beginning of a political marriage of convenience between Trump and the NRA. From the gun group, the novice candidate gained well-funded advertising support, an organized get-out-the-vote operation, and a well-tuned anti-establishment messaging machine to vouch for his newfound populism. From Trump, the NRA got a nominee who echoed the group’s dire rhetoric and attacks on the media — and now a president whose embrace has made the gun group perhaps the most influential organization on the ascendant right.