The president of the United States will be asked to make difficult, life-and-death decisions while in office, and at some point every candidate for office will have to prove their mettle to voters. But there's also, apparently, a phenomenon that I will call the Murder Vote. The Murder Vote is not won simply by promising a hawkish foreign policy, supporting the death penalty, or otherwise indicating a willingness to deploy state violence. No, the Murder Vote requires proving to the American people that you could stand up and murder somebody right this minute. You're just, in your presidential magnanimity, kindly allowing us all to live.
This week's apparent attempt at clinching the Murder Vote is Florida governor Jeb Bush.
It's a simple but strong statement: America is context-free bragging on the internet about the weapon that you love enough to get your name engraved on it, but not enough to find something with more gravitas than Times New Roman. And Jeb Bush is so ready to use it that he doesn't even keep the safety on.
But the photo is only implicitly threatening, and Bush is already late to the casual firearm usage race. The frontrunner for that right now is Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who promoted his campaign with a guide to cooking bacon with an AR-15 rifle.
One would think that a video called Making Machine Gun Bacon would make Cruz a shoo-in for the Murder Vote. But counterintuitively, it may work against him. Sure, Cruz is into shooting, but only for the nurturing, decidedly non-murderous purpose of making breakfast. And as Florida Senator Marco Rubio knows, that's just not enough.
Rubio's Murder Vote play starts with the relatively common (albeit debatably effective) and not inherently threatening notion of buying a handgun to "protect [his] family if someone were to come after us." But he quickly assures everyone that this is not simply a generic precaution, it's so he can personally fight ISIS, which even after last year's terror attacks remains essentially a Red Dawn reboot plot point. "If ISIS were to visit us or our communities at any moment, the last line of defense between ISIS and my family is the ability that I have to protect my family from them or from a criminal or anyone else who seeks to do us harm." So why did he decide to buy his gun on Christmas Eve? "I'm not home very often," he responded. "So that was one of the few days that I was there." Okay, his odds of leading the Wolverines just got a little lower.
This contest is obviously rigged. The gun control debate requires Republican candidates to loudly convince every single person they meet that they really love firearms, and constantly redirecting conversation toward your arsenal of deadly weapons — and your readiness to use them on humans, as opposed to paper targets or even animals — is a great way to turn a popular hobby into an apparent obsession with killing.
But Democrats are also capable of drawing the Murder Vote. Take Jim Webb, who responded to a debate question about making political enemies by bringing up the man he actually did kill in the Vietnam War. The distinctive thing wasn't that he'd seen war, or even that he'd killed in combat. No, it was the broad, mischievous, and terrifying grin that followed.
There was at least a serious explanation behind Webb's reference. Republican candidate Ben Carson, on the other hand, spent several days last year convincing voters that he had once tried to stab a friend to death in simple rage. Yes, the 2016 election campaign involved a "smear campaign" implying that a candidate hadn't committed attempted murder. Carson later clarified that the stabbing had involved "a close relative," but definitely happened.
Unlike the Republican primary, though, the Murder Vote is already decided by a clear margin. Donald Trump certainly has his policy bona fides in order, what with his proposal to deliberately kill the families of ISIS terrorists. But he also outright says his voting bloc is okay with shooting sprees. Or as he puts it, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot people and I wouldn't lose voters." Barring a literal murder on the campaign trail, we're ready to call it — we've found the candidate most credibly willing to personally snuff out a human life in cold blood. God help us all.