Trump's rhetoric rankles the anti-abortion movement

Why Trump's latest comments "may be the single biggest issue that leads him to lose in 2024"

Donald Trump addresses the Susan B. Anthony 11th Annual Campaign for Life Gala
In the GOP presidential race, Trump is now the “furthest left candidate on the abortion issue.”
(Image credit: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images)

Donald Trump isn’t pandering to the anti-abortion movement during his latest campaign for the White House. During his weekend interview with NBC’s Kristen Welker, he once again criticized the movement for pushing abortion bans without exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother. “Other than certain parts of the country, you can’t — you’re not going to win on this issue,” Trump said. That follows recent reports that he is urging fellow Republicans to “talk differently” about abortion. 

Trump’s comments brought a backlash, Semafor reported. Former Vice President Mike Pence criticized Trump’s refusal to support a national abortion ban. “Why would we leave unborn babies in California and Illinois and New York to the devices of liberal state legislatures and liberal governors?” Pence asked at Iowa’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference over the weekend. Activists also complained, The New York Post reported. “Pathetic and shameful,” said one. “Trump is actively attacking the very pro-life laws made possible by [Roe v. Wade's] overturning.”

Hold on, though. Conservatives aren’t happy with Trump’s rhetoric, but they “won’t punish him for his heresy” because they expect him to win the nomination, Jonathan Chait wrote at New York. What’s clear is that Trump wants to “win back some of the secular voters” who have deserted Republicans in recent elections. His brazen challenge to the party’s base voters is a sign of his confidence. “Trump would do this only if he believed the primary was effectively over and he could focus on the general election.”  

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'More complicated questions'

Indeed, Trump’s less-than-full commitment to the anti-abortion cause is “not hurting him in the GOP primary,” The Associated Press reported. And it’s a sign that the abortion issue has become a minefield for GOP candidates — it was once enough to “simply declare themselves opposed to abortion.” With the end of Roe v. Wade, though, Republicans must deal with “more complicated questions” about how, when and where to limit abortion access. “Some people get it wrong when they think this constituency is in lockstep,” said one activist.

Those complicated questions mean the GOP has a “dilemma between what most of its base wants and what is broadly palatable,” Aaron Blake wrote at The Washington Post. Polls show that most Americans oppose a six-week abortion ban, but that most Republicans favor it. Trump’s willingness to cross the party base on the issue means “he may see danger in marginalizing himself for the general election.” That leaves anti-abortion groups “figuring out precisely what to do with that.”

The issue isn’t complicated for all conservatives, however. Abortion helped Donald Trump win in 2016, Ben Domenech wrote at The Spectator, but “it may be the single biggest issue that leads him to lose in 2024.” Why? Because in the GOP he is now the “furthest left candidate on the abortion issue.” And that leaves Trump in the worst of all possible worlds during a general election: “The left won’t accept him, and now the pro-life cause has every reason to doubt him.” 

'Extensive history with reproductive rights'

Of course, Trump is the president whose appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court led to the end of Roe. He already has an “extensive history with reproductive rights,” Christopher Wilson noted at Yahoo News, and has even bragged to anti-abortion audiences that “I’m the one who got rid of Roe v. Wade." Trump might be trying to present himself as a moderate on abortion, but his “previous statements and governing record” will make that difficult. Some observers think the whole thing is a ruse. “If Republicans were to pass a federal ban,” Susan Rinkunas wrote at Jezebel, “Trump would surely sign.”

Nonetheless, Politico reported, President Biden’s campaign is clearly nervous that Trump will “muddy the waters” on abortion. After Trump’s interview with Welker, the president’s campaign operation quickly reached out to journalists and activists to remind them of his opponent’s history on the issue. Trump is trying to “hedge on abortion,” the campaign said in a fact sheet. “It’s critically important we not let that happen and call it out.”

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Joel Mathis

Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.