Roe v. Wade was overturned by the conservative Supreme Court majority former President Donald Trump built. If he decides to run for president again in 2024 and faces any opposition in the Republican primaries, that should be a major argument in his favor, especially among social conservatives.
Unlike his boasts of inaugural crowd sizes, Trump could legitimately argue he succeeded where Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush failed in delivering on an important goal a fast swathe of the Republican Party had been trying to accomplish for decades. Yet Trump was uncharacteristically slow to take credit.
When the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization draft opinion leaked weeks ahead of time, Trump said little. That day, he issued statements about the 2020 presidential election rather than Roe’s impending demise or, better yet, exhorting the conservative justices to remain true to their convictions amid a left-wing pressure campaign that remains ongoing.
By the time Donald Trump finally did weigh in — and, to be fair, his comments were especially effusive — his former vice president and White House press secretary, the latter now the Republican nominee for governor of Arkansas, had long been out with statements. Barack Obama, who was dismayed by the ruling and probably remembered his ill-fated lunch to persuade Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to retire before Democrats lost control of the Senate in 2014.
As Trump’s reticence became noticeable, the first reports that he was privately expressing misgivings about the Supreme Court’s course of action emerged. He was said to be concerned about the electoral fallout for the GOP — and, potentially, himself personally.
Trump said all the right things publicly when discussing Dobbs on Friday. He said in a statement that Roe’s reversal was “only made possible because I delivered everything as promised, including nominating and getting three highly respected and strong Constitutionalists confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.”
Speaking at a rally the next day, during which he was thanked for his role in assembling the current Supreme Court lineup, Trump repeated this argument. “Yesterday, the court handed down a victory for the Constitution, a victory for the rule of law, and above all a victory for life,” he said.
So fake news, perhaps? Except for the fact that the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman is pretty plugged into Trump’s world. And the former president is a New Yorker who was a late convert to the pro-life cause. These do sound like some of his initial inclinations and the advice he might be getting from his daughter Ivanka.
It is of course possible to simultaneously believe that a court decision is right constitutionally, legally, and morally while still worrying it will be “bad for Republicans.” At a minimum, it could limit their Senate pickup opportunities as they eye gains in relatively pro-choice states like New Hampshire. It could put, say, Colorado out of reach even if the bottom drops out for President Joe Biden. Certainly, Republicans would like the midterms to be an election about what Biden has done rather than what they may do.
Biden, however, is willing to give Donald Trump full credit (or blame) for Dobbs. “It was three justices named by one president — Donald Trump — who were the core of today’s decision to upend the scales of justice and eliminate a fundamental right for women in this country.”
This ignores the fact that Roe came within one vote of being overturned the last time it was contested at the high court. If Republicans had succeeded in getting Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court at the time time, it would have been reversed almost 30 years ago.
Trump must own the decision, exalting in it during the Republican primaries should he run, defending it in the general election should he win — and exercise leadership to moderate any GOP excesses post-Dobbs. Trump’s political instincts are sometimes sharper than other Republicans because he does not think like a conventional conservative.
But Trump governed enough like one to run on that record. He cannot run from it. He didn’t just nominate the justices on the lists conservatives compiled for him. He stood by Justice Neil Gorsuch when Democrats brayed that the seat really belonged to Merrick Garland; by Justice Brett Kavanaugh when Senate Democrats called him a rapist; and by Justice Amy Coney Barret when weeks before the election she was designated to succeed Ginsburg. These were the ultimate “he fights for you” moments. And there’s not a David Souter or even John Roberts in the bunch, occasional grumbling about Gorsuch aside.
Trump’s problems with suburban women owe at least as much to his personality as any substantive issue. He cannot forfeit the confidence conservatives now have in him if he plans to compete with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Dobbs will be hung around Donald Trump’s neck like an albatross by his enemies no matter what he does. He should wear it like a medal.
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner’s politics editor. He was previously managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and senior writer for the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? You can follow home on Twitter: @Jimantle.