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If Trump and Clinton are serious about gun control, they should heed this advice

Donald J. Trump attends a campaign rally in Florida on October 23, 2015.
Johnny Louis | FilmMagic | Getty Images
Donald J. Trump attends a campaign rally in Florida on October 23, 2015.

In the wake of the Orlando terror shooting, Americans from all political camps are once again asking if anything effective can be done politically to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and criminals.

Well, hold on to your hats folks, because the first politician arranging a meeting with the National Rifle Association to discuss softening its stance against new gun-buying restrictions is… Donald Trump?!?

Yep, The Donald said as much in a Tweet just this morning:

Trump has been surprising people for a year now in this campaign, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised by this announcement. But it's hard not to be astonished that Trump seems to be softening on gun control at least somewhat, after virulently promoting Second Amendment rights and attacking gun-control advocates from the time he announced his presidential run. Then again, Trump's real brand throughout this election has been unpredictability and his ability to "make deals." With that in mind, think of the significant publicity Trump would attain if, just as a presidential candidate, he becomes the first person to make the NRA significantly cave and agree to a new gun-buying restriction. Love him or hate him, that would certainly burnish his legend-in-his-own-mind negotiating skills.

Trump's announced meeting with the NRA, even if it ultimately leads to nothing, should serve to remind us of how the true art of negotiation and horse trading has been effectively dead in Washington for decades.

Whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton wins the White House, if the next president is serious about achieving gun control, it would be wise to follow the examples of two presidents who knew how to not just get laws passed, but knew how to get things accomplished with broad bi-partisan support that was thought impossible before they beat the supposedly impossible odds. Those two presidents were Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Hillary Clinton, in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, is campaigning in Ohio and Pennsylvania to present her vision for a stronger and safer America.
Getty Images
Hillary Clinton, in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, is campaigning in Ohio and Pennsylvania to present her vision for a stronger and safer America.

Johnson's signature achievement as president was the 1964 Civil Rights Act. To get that done, it's important to remember that LBJ had to cajole leaders of his own Democratic Party in addition to a few Republicans who were hoping for concessions from the White House that never came. The new HBO film "All the Way" with Bryan Cranston brilliantly portraying Johnson, does a good job of showcasing the negotiating tactics and skills LBJ used relentlessly during the Civil Rights legislation process. Based on the extensive books on Johnson by Robert Caro, the film shows how LBJ would get right in the face of the senators he cajoled, stick his fingers sharply into their chests, and combine a mixture of sweet attention and hard-core threats to get them to heel. It worked, even on some senators from the south, and LBJ went on to an historic election victory later that same year.

Nixon never liked that kind of close contact or personal lobbying. His strength as president was to read the nation wisely for its own — and his — benefit. He pulled U.S. troops out of Vietnam without waiting to negotiate the details with Congressional Democrats or Republicans. With inflation raging and the economy slowing down near the middle of his first term, Nixon greenlighted a significant expansion of welfare payments to the poor and other similar programs using his executive authority. He barely consulted anyone in Congress who might object when he pulled the U.S. dollar off the gold standard in 1971. And, most famously, he ignored the warnings and objections of his fellow staunch anti-Communists when he made his groundbreaking trip to China in 1972. The result was a landslide Nixon re-election victory in 1972 not unlike LBJ's triumph in 1964.

On guns, it's going to take a president with a combination of Johnson's negotiating skills and Nixon's talent for working independently.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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