Texas’ senior Republican in the U.S. Senate, John Cornyn, has for most of his two decades in office fared fairly unscathed in his re-election campaigns and political polling. But his popularity among Republicans and independents seems to be taking a hit recently after his efforts to advance a congressional gun safety bill that President Joe Biden signed into law late last month.
The measure is a fairly modest set of gun safety initiatives that increase funding for mental health care and create some policies around who is allowed to have a gun after domestic violence. Cornyn played a major role in a bipartisan push by group of senators to get the bill passed.
Dan Solomon of Texas Monthly joined Texas Standard to share more. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Of course, it’s one thing if we start to see a drop off in the number of Republicans who want to support John Cornyn, because gun rights is an issue, obviously, that’s close to a lot of conservatives. What about independents? That struck me as a little surprising, at least according to what you’re reporting.
Dan Solomon: So I’m not sure if there is a direct one-for-one correlation between the gun bill and the lack of support for Cornyn. You know, it’s hard to parse exactly what drives anyone’s numbers in a poll, but that was what brought Cornyn into the national spotlight, which is a place that – despite being the House minority whip, he’s a member of the senior leadership for the Republican Party – he’s also kind of an anonymous figure in some ways.
He’s not Ted Cruz. He’s not someone who is flashy, who makes big statements or gets a lot of headlines. So I think that there’s a possibility that some of the response to Cornyn, some of the dip in the poll numbers, is just because he’s been more visible and people are just more aware of him. And they might not like what they see for reasons that go beyond the gun bill.
A lot of folks thought the moves that the Senate took on the gun safety measure were fairly modest compared to what a lot of folks were asking for, especially Democrats asking for legislation to try to curb gun violence at schools. Is there anything in this bill that would stand out as something that Republicans would especially be upset over?
It’s more about signposting and kind of the general culture war stuff that has overwhelmed our politics. So I think that for Cornyn, it’s not so much that he passed a specific bill that people are mad about or there are specific measures in this bill that have alienated him from independents, so much is that he by pursuing this – which is a topic that’s been forbidden for decades – this is the first piece of gun legislation passed nationally in a very long time. Even though it’s very modest, it’s still the first.
So I think that there’s just kind of a sense like, well, maybe he’s not on our side; maybe he’s not our guy; he’s not fighting the battles that we want him to fight – for Republicans. And independents are a little bit trickier to quite parse, although, you know, guns are important to a certain large number of Texas independents as well.
How much does this matter in the grand scheme of Cornyn’s career? You write that he’s not up for re-election until 2026. He’ll be 74 then; some folks consider that a good age for retirement. Who knows where Cornyn is going to be?
Yeah, I think trying to predict what the political landscape is going to look like four years from now, I can’t do that. But I would expect that this particular issue is not going to be the thing that torpedoes John Cornyn’s career. You know, if this is really driven by the gun bill, the gun bill will be long forgotten by 2026. But what that actually means for Cornyn, who knows? It could be a good year for Republicans. It could be a bad year for Republicans.