What is the purpose of grading a candidate based on his support or lack of support for your issue? Well, primarily to give voters a guide as to whether someone is worthy of casting a vote for, in terms of that issue. But anyone who doesn’t think politics plays a role in the grading system is naive. NRA’s grading system is most definitely a political animal, in addition to being a way to communicates about candidates to membership.
We’re all aware of apparent mistakes in the grading system, like Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown earning an A rating when it would seem that it is undeserved, but it’s important to remember that all grades are not equal. An A in California, Massachusetts in New Jersey is not necessarily an A, or even a C in states like New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas or Pennsylvania. For an example, take a look at what earns you an A plus an endorsement in Massachusetts.
Those grades reflect the political realities in those states, where most politicians are openly hostile to gun rights. How do you get a politician to care about your issue, and to take your side? Well, electing someone who fundamentally agrees with you is one way. We’re lucky in Pennsylvania to have state politicians like Daryl Metcalfe and Sam Rohrer, who have a genuine belief in the right to keep and bear arms themselves, and who we can genuinely call friends. It’s not like that everywhere. New Jersey politicians try to actively out gun-control their opponents, and it works like that in Massachusetts, parts of New York, and parts of California too. The other way to convince a politician to support you is showing him that your support helps him get elected, and your continued support helps him keep his seat (the converse of that being if you withdrew support, you could threaten his seat). If you can’t help or hurt a politicians chances for re-election, and he has no personal inclination to support your cause, he will ignore your interests.
The rating system also plays in this area as well. When you have no one on your side, you don’t really have much of a choice except to win converts. In the Massachusetts example I showed above, you have a legislator who has shown in the past some willingness to support some of your issues. He may not support all of them, but in cases like this, even know the legislator may not be perfect, it makes sense to offer an endorsement, and maybe a good grade, to try to bring him on board a bit more. If a politician can see that you can bring votes to the table at election time, he will listen to you. You can bet that if NRA/GOAL work to get Jamie Eldridge elected, he’s going to pay attention to their issues in Congress, and having Congressional Representation in Congress from Massachusetts that’s even moderately pro-gun would be good for all of us. Having left-wing groups in Massachusetts getting upset because the NRA is endorsing left-wing progressives is definitely good for us, especially that doesn’t translate into electoral problems.
Sure, a lot of folks who read that article I linked are going to be upset because of all the gun control that Eldridge says he does support, but remember, this is Massachusetts. In Pennsylvania, he’d get a D or an F for those views, but in Pennsylvania, you have other people to choose from, and you can bet that someone in that lot will be pretty pro-gun. When you don’t have much to work with, this is how you build political support for your interests.
As I’ve said before, politics is a dirty game, and to win in politics, you almost have to pretend you don’t have any principles. Politics isn’t a game of principles, it’s a game of interests. We need our principles to guide us over the long term, but in the short term you have to look at interests.