Pro-Life Voters Will Eat Whatever Trump Serves Them
He says he doesn’t support a national abortion ban. But they’ll stick with him.
DESPITE BEING HANDED A PRIME OPPORTUNITY to rip at former President Donald Trump, the candidates on stage at Wednesday night’s Republican primary debate had little to say about the frontrunner’s recent dismissal of abortion bans.
Only Ron DeSantis, who was asked directly about the issue of abortion, criticized Trump. “The former president, you know, he’s missing in action tonight,” the Florida governor said. “I want him to look into the eyes” of people “who have been fighting this fight for a long time” and explain his views.
But that was it.
So did the candidates miss an opportunity to separate themselves from Trump—and him from his voters?
Trump’s attack in his recent Meet the Press interview on the six-week abortion ban Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in Florida as a “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake” provided the Republican contenders a sugar high they needed badly. In the aftermath, several of them seized on his comments as evidence that pro-lifers can’t trust Trump and that, as DeSantis said, “he’s preparing to sell you out.”
Yes he is—and it won’t hurt him. Especially if the other candidates give up on creating a contrast on this critical issue. This break could cost Trump some support among pro-life voters, but not likely enough to threaten his position as the all-but-certain primary victor. His support has only grown as he has racked up 91 criminal charges; it won’t drop off because of his remarks about abortion after he delivered the three new justices who overturned Roe v. Wade. Pro-life leaders will follow the voters—and eventually so will all the 2024 GOP candidates—when Trump wins the nomination next spring.
That’s why condemnation of Trump’s remarks from some conservative writers was robust, while from pro-life leaders it was weak sauce.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, tweeted that “Trump was wrong in attacking the heartbeat bill in FL,” but she then lumped him together with DeSantis, writing “We urge Trump and DeSantis to focus on their concrete pro-life plan for the future and contrast that with Biden. He is their opponent.”
Semafor quoted an unnamed pro-life activist describing the tepid reaction from pro-life groups as “incredibly embarrassing.”
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By contrast, the response from conservative commentators was sharply critical. Ben Shapiro said Trump’s remarks were “morally egregious,” and “not only not pro-life,” but “an awful thing to say.” A.G. Hamilton, the pseudonym of a lawyer with a large social-media following who has occasionally written for conservative outlets, said that Trump had thrown “the entire [pro-life] movement under the bus” and that all “credibility of the movement moving forward” would be lost if its leaders did not stand up to him.
“We will see if the pro-life movement has enough backbone left to prove him wrong, and if other conservatives are wise enough to learn the lesson before Trump’s capricious treachery comes for their priorities,” wrote Nathanael Blake wrote in the Federalist.
IN HIS MEET THE PRESS INTERVIEW, Trump wouldn’t commit to a number of weeks of pregnancy after which abortion would be unacceptable to him, or whether state governments or the federal government should enforce bans. “It could be state or it could be federal,” he said. “I don’t frankly care.”
Trump has consistently blamed abortion for the GOP’s weak showing in the 2022 midterm elections. He won’t concede that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision is broadly unpopular, so instead tries to deflect and blame Republicans for not “talking” about the divisive issue in the right way.
Those on the pro-life side “speak very inarticulately about this subject,” Trump said, a point he returned to last week, warning conservatives that “we can win elections on this issue, but it’s very delicate and explaining it properly is an extremely important thing.”
Yeah, that’s definitely what Trump is known for, explaining things properly. So pro-life activists can feel confident that this issue is now out of their clumsy hands.
Trump’s got this. He’s a marketer and a brander, and he’s going to brand abortion bans.
And keep on bullshitting his way to the general election.
NEXT YEAR WE CAN EXPECT to hear a lot from Trump about his fictional “tremendous negotiating power” on abortion—which implies there is a deal to be worked out on this issue with Democrats.
“I’d negotiate something and we’ll end up with peace on that issue for the first time in 52 years,” he said on Meet the Press.
No one of significance in the pro-life movement is calling out this ludicrous nation. Because they’re in the bag for Trump. It turns out that Trump could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot a federal abortion ban and he wouldn’t lose any voters.
He knows this because the pro-life movement has backed down already. Months ago, when Trump attempted to reject a federal ban, saying the matter should be left “to the states.” Dannenfelser rebuked him, saying that was “a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold.”
But within weeks, Dannenfelser was back at Mar-a-Lago, attempting to lobby Trump on a fifteen-week ban. He hasn’t endorsed one and isn’t likely to.
Ralph Reed knows that. The Christian conservative activist gave up the game back in May when he said: “I think we’re likely to land at a message somewhere along the lines of: ‘While we support federal legislation, unapologetically, the reality is, most of the action in the near term will take place at the state level, as well as defunding Planned Parenthood, and a comprehensive ban on taxpayer funding, all of which will build momentum for federal legislation, and pivoting to the fact that Democrats are the real extremists.’”
Reed saw then that Trump had moved on from abortion. Roe is gone—and Trump wants thanks, not demands.
What about what the pro-life movement wants? Trump doesn’t frankly care. Trump’s abortion platform will be the pro-life platform. One Trump critic in the evangelical community—Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of the Family Leader—described how demoralizing it will be if Trump wins Iowa, because Trump would “be revealing that we are bought, or sold out, to a personality.”
Those leading the fight to stop abortions will swallow humiliation for influence. When Trump inevitably denies them the support they seek for a national ban, they will not risk losing their place at the table—or risk physical harm to themselves and their family members—by calling out Trump as insufficiently pro-life.
If the life agenda was worth the consequences of alienating Trump, then pro-life leaders would have already endorsed its strongest champions who support a national ban—Mike Pence or Tim Scott.
Their choices will be dictated not by policy, or how many babies can be saved by heartbeat bills, but by their higher priority—power.