Former President Donald Trump arguably did more for the anti-abortion movement than any previous president. After all, he appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade. But will movement leaders support him as he campaigns for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination? Politico reported that's not a sure thing. Trump's ambivalence about a national abortion ban has social conservatives contemplating other candidates. "We're looking for an unapologetic champion on this issue," said one.
Trump regularly boasts about his anti-abortion credentials. "After 50 years of failure, with nobody coming even close, I was able to kill Roe v. Wade, much to the 'shock' of everyone," he recently posted on the Truth Social media platform. But he has also blamed the issue for Republicans' weak performance in the 2022 midterm elections and has criticized the six-week ban signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as "too harsh."
The former president's equivocation makes a certain amount of political sense. Republican primary voters may like abortion bans, but there's ample evidence the issue has hurt the party with the general electorate. "There are no easy answers" for Republican candidates like Trump, The Associated Press reported. Could the abortion issue sink Trump's attempt to return to the White House?
What are commentators saying?
"In a general election, a strong anti-abortion stance can be a real negative," wrote CNN's Richard Galant. That means Trump's boast that he "killed" abortion rights could sink his presidential candidacy. His recent ambiguity on the issue "could help Trump politically" with the general electorate, but it won't get him that far with the anti-abortion activists whose votes he needs to win the Republican nomination. That leaves the former president in a pickle. Galant added, "Trump may need to come up with a better answer to keep the pro-life community in his good graces."
"Trump doesn't get to have it both ways" on abortion, Nicole Russell stated for the Washington Examiner. It makes no sense that the former president "takes credit for reversing the country's preeminent abortion ruling" but also "slams DeSantis for being too pro-life." Trump is trying to use the abortion issue to win over conservative voters without being passionately pro-life himself. That may not work. "For most pro-life advocates, there is no such thing" as an ambiguous position on the issue. "There is only being pro-life or pro-abortion."
The answer for Trump may be to put the spotlight on Democrats, William McGurn wrote at
The Wall Street Journal. "It's no secret that Democrats plan to use abortion to paint Republicans as extremists." Rather than get caught up in its divisions on abortion, the GOP should instead look outward and "put the focus on Democrat extremism," say, by challenging President Biden on late-term abortions. "Constantly we are told—rightly—that Americans want to keep abortion legal but also support limits," McGurn said. "Mr. Biden is not for any limits."
Trump is currently sporting a hefty polling lead for the GOP nomination over DeSantis, his nearest rival. Will that hold? "Recent polling underscores that Trump may have to work to regain some evangelicals' support," FiveThirtyEight reported. But Trump also famously commands the loyalty of white evangelical voters that may transcend the abortion issue to some extent. "Many view him as their great warrior," said Peter Wehner, a NeverTrump conservative. "It's a bond that will be hard to break."
Anti-abortion activists say they will hold the line. "Our position is that anyone who's running for a federal office who says that it's a state-only job cannot receive the support of the pro-life movement," Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told The New Yorker. "I do think that the former president thinks that there is a line to be drawn. I just don't know what it is."
Trump may be inclined to keep fudging the issue, promising anti-abortion voters future victories while staying fuzzy on the specifics of what he would try to do if he returns to the White House. "For 50 years, they had been trying to" overturn Roe, he said this week. "I got it done, and now we're in a position to make a really great deal and a deal that people want." For now, it appears Trump will keep trying to have it both ways.