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Will Donald Trump’s abortion stance hurt him?

Trump called the new Florida abortion law a “terrible thing”. Credit: Meet the Press

September 18, 2023 - 6:00pm

While most attention has been paid to Donald Trump’s 91 felony charges this year, it is the former president’s heterogeneity on policy issues that makes him hard to pin down for the American voter. 

In 2016, more voters saw Trump as a relative moderate on many cultural and economic issues — at least compared to a standard-issue Democratic or Republican presidential nominee. But now Trump is breaking with many pro-life activists on his side of the aisle. Last week, he repeatedly criticised pro-life politicians for not understanding how to talk about abortion. Then, this weekend, he further expanded on this message in a sit-down interview with new Meet the Press host Kristen Welker, criticising abortion bans that did not allow for exceptions. 

The former president also tried to give himself maximum room for manoeuvre on whether there should be federal legislation on abortion: “It could be a state ban, it could be a federal ban.” He pledged to find a bipartisan solution on abortion: “Both sides are going to come together” to set some agreed-upon limit for abortions and “for the first time in 52 years, you’ll have an issue that we can put behind us.” Such a deal would face a steep climb. Congressional Democrats have almost uniformly supported a bill that would remove most restrictions on abortion across all nine months of a pregnancy.

Unprompted, Trump brought up the new Florida abortion law, which puts restrictions on terminations after six weeks, and called it a “terrible thing” (the same term he used for Joe Biden’s chaotic pullout from Afghanistan). This is a revealing word choice — a signal from Trump that he finds that kind of restriction on abortion not just impractical but undesirable, too.

In reversing Roe v. Wade, the Dobbs Supreme Court decision gave both Congress and state legislatures considerably more latitude in regulating abortion. But that very latitude has opened up a major debate within the Republican coalition on how to handle this issue. There are at least two layers to this debate: whether to attempt to regulate abortion at the federal level or to focus on states, and how far to go in particular regulations (whether at state or federal levels).

Trump has sought to differentiate himself from other Republicans this cycle by expressing his scepticism about abortion restrictions. The issue likely boosted progressive turnout in the 2022 midterms, and proponents of an expansive abortion regime have racked up multiple victories in state referenda.

At the same time, Republican governors who have signed significant restrictions on abortion — in Ohio and Georgia, for example — have been able to win re-election handily. Trump himself blamed the Republican midterm disappointment on abortion — in part to avoid any blame for the defeat of candidates affiliated with him. He seems to view abortion as a losing issue, and is eager to take it off the table.

At first glance, Trump seems out of step with much of the Republican electorate on abortion policy. A July New York Times poll found that 59% of Republican voters supported a six-week abortion ban, and social conservatives have long been powerbrokers in the Iowa caucuses. In 2016, Trump’s pledge to deliver for social conservatives (especially on abortion) was essential for bonding evangelical voters to him.

But Trump today is in a stronger position with parts of the Republican electorate than he was in early 2016. His Supreme Court nominees, for example, were instrumental in overturning Roe. And any attempts so far by Trump rivals to hit him from “the Right” on economic and social issues have had mixed results at best.

But there’s a chance abortion could be different: the issue has engaged conservative activists for decades, and pro-life measures — unlike, say, entitlement reforms — enjoy broad support within the Republican electorate at large. Trump could, then, still face some blowback for his dismissal of pro-life measures.

However, he might also calculate that criticism from anti-abortion activists could help set him up for the general election. Such criticism could help reinforce his position as a triangulator on social issues, distinct from a Democratic Party intent on rolling back restrictions and foes of abortion in the Republican Party.


Fred Bauer is a writer from New England.

fredbauerblog

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M Doors
M Doors
9 months ago

“Congressional Democrats have almost uniformly supported a bill that would remove most restrictions on abortion across all nine months of a pregnancy.”
Legal abortions at 8 months & 3 weeks – depraved & sickening. Enough to make you pro-life !

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  M Doors

I don’t know why this is so hard for Americans. Virtually every country allows abortions up to 15 weeks, something I think 70% of Americans support, yet they can’t get it done. Tells you something about the degree of institutional capture on both sides.

M Doors
M Doors
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Indeed.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  M Doors

Don’t we have a word for that?
As I recall it is INFANTICIDE .

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
9 months ago
Reply to  M Doors

Why not cut to the chase and push for killing your children up to 12 years old?

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
9 months ago

Unprompted, Trump brought up the new Florida abortion law, which puts restrictions on terminations after six weeks, and called it a “terrible thing” (the same term he used for Joe Biden’s chaotic pullout from Afghanistan). This is a revealing word choice — a signal from Trump that he finds that kind of restriction on abortion not just impractical but undesirable, too.
Trump brought this up because he is still heavily going after DeSantis. The polls (nationally) suggest he needn’t bother, but Trump hates what he considers disloyalty. He is enraged by the man he calls DeSanctimonious and can’t stop talking about him in interviews. If he wanted to talk about a 6 week ban in general, he could have brought up Iowa or Georgia, Texas… but nope. Has to be Florida.

Paul Hendricks
Paul Hendricks
9 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

Indeed–telling.

T Bone
T Bone
9 months ago

Dobbs was a blessing for all Americans because it reasserted the US as a Constitutional Federal Republic. There is no express or implied “Universal Right to Abortion Access.” A state has no obligation to address or not address the issue. Dobbs was just good jurisprudence and respected the separation of powers.

Democrat voters of course want to nationalize every issue…because after the policies they vote for price and flush them out of their blue states, they plan to shelter in red states.

This is just a fact that Democrats wont acknowledge- unless someone lives in a deep red state, they’re unaffected by abortion restrictions.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
9 months ago

Interviewer: “Mr. Trump, what is your favorite breakfast food?”
Trump: “Waffles.”

This man is not, and never has been a conservative.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

The reason why the Supreme Court gave the decision back to the states is that the Democrats movement to the far left entailed so many of their activists now took it as a point of pride and principle to secure terminations up to 9 months. Like Trudeau in Canada with his state euthanasia, they have become transhumanists of the most fascistic nature.

Stan Konwiser
Stan Konwiser
9 months ago

This is simple to explain: Desantos is running in the GOP primary. Trump is running in the general election. Figuring he already has the nomination, Trump is pivoting to the center. Those independent voters are generally pro choice. Sounds like something most successful presidential candidates have done to win.

Paul Hendricks
Paul Hendricks
9 months ago

Ah, I see the unherd editors have come around, compared to recent articles on abortion restriction “a losing issue” in the US. I’d say this guy gets it–though of course one never knows with Trump. . .

The promise of appointing justices who would overturn Roe v Wade was vital to securing Trump’s support among conservative voters who might have stayed home otherwise. (Similarly, the choice of overtly religious Mike Pence as VP). But these voters never held the illusion that Trump was a “conservative”.

Now, having delivered, Trump finds an opportunity to say, as he always has, what he will in order to generate turnout. Remember Operation Warp Speed: as if his base was ever going to get those shots. But as disappointed as many are that Trump didn’t just fire the likes of Fauci and Birx, who could doubt that delivering something called a vaccine was practically a political necessity at the time? (For similar reasons Kamala had to say in the national debate she wouldn’t take the “vaccine” developed under Trump, which her administration would soon mandate!)

It is probably the case that organization around abortion access boosted turnout in certain recent elections. Just as the martyr George Floyd almost certainly boosted turnout (to say nothing about other means of doing so) in the lockdown daze of 2020, crucially among blacks in Georgia.

I doubt Trump will do anything but talk as far as increasing abortion access, and I bet many of his supporters will quietly assume the same.

michael harris
michael harris
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Hendricks

Is that the martyr George Floyd or the ‘martyr’ George Floyd?

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
9 months ago

The issue was what the Republican Party lost big on in the Midterms. Pretending otherwise does not change that fact.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago

Trump thinking of nobody but himself here. Couldn’t give a fig about the moral argument either side on this issue. Pure electoral calculus to try and keep him out of jail. The guy has no foundations other than what benefits himself.
The question is when will sufficient wake up to that.

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

As opposed to, say, Joe Biden or Kamala Harris?

j watson
j watson
9 months ago

Not quite. I strongly suspect if Trump pulled out Biden would immediately too. He’s just got it in his head only he can beat Trump and Trump too much of a risk to everyone so he must stay. Whether one concurs another matter, but that’s a slightly different, less self interested, motivation to staying out of Jail. Then Harris competes against other Democrat candidates and doesn’t win.