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The Donald Trump Dilemma: Victory on Roe, Disaster on Jan. 6

Donald Trump
Former President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with attendees at the "Rally to Protect Our Elections" hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. Image by Gage Skidmore.

Less than a week separated the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the most dramatic hearing yet by the Jan. 6 committee. It’s a juxtaposition of the Republicans’ 2024 dilemma about former President Donald Trump.

The Never Trumpers on the right made two arguments against him in 2015-16. One was that Donald Trump was unfit for office because of his temperament and personal character, echoing the conservative case against Bill Clinton in the 1990s. The second was that the thrice-married, twice-divorced, personally libertine, formerly “very pro-choice” Trump was a Trojan horse liberal, a New Yorker who had never demonstrated any serious commitment to conservatism, especially of the social variety. 

Roe falling thanks in no small part to the comfortable conservative Supreme Court majority Trump built is the biggest argument against the Never Trump position, at least among authentic conservatives. Jan. 6 remains the most powerful argument for it.

That’s because half the Never Trump argument was clearly and unambiguously wrong, while the other was arguably correct. Trump did not govern as a secret liberal. To the extent that these reflect his inward convictions, he kept his commitments to social conservatives and their constitutionalist allies, especially. Even though Trump broke from conservative orthodoxy, he had been transparent during the campaign about his deviationism.

Trump had been talking about trade protectionism, for example, since the 1980s. Some conservatives in good standing came to agree. He nevertheless staffed his administration with movement conservatives and in many respects governed like one.

Yet Trump’s temperament is, at a minimum, a problem.

Not only was he often petulant and prone to wrath, vengeful, spiteful, and constitutionally incapable of ever being the bigger person in a quarrel; but he also had difficulty separating his personal and political interests from the public interest. It got him impeached twice.

Cassidy Hutchinson, the former aide to Donald Trump’s last White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was a powerful witness, if not always an entirely persuasive one. There has been pushback against her most dramatic (though often second-hand) testimony and questions about whether the Jan. 6 committee, an alliance of Democrats and two Never Trump Republicans with no adversarial voices, did its due diligence. 

Nevertheless, if you are not wedded to the committee’s narrative that this was a well-thought-out coup attempt culminating in Trump’s foiled plot to lead armed supporters in a march on the Capitol, the facts of Jan. 6 are bad enough. Donald Trump believed or professed to believe, some not very well-supported claims about the 2020 election. He pushed them past the point of any legally viable options. He whipped up his supporters into a frenzy, then did little to stop them once they attacked the Capitol.

As was the case with Russia and a thousand other Donald Trump controversies, that may not be enough for the Democrats and hair-on-fire Never Trumpers. But it ought to be. If Trump wanted bigger crowds and was simply indifferent to whether the rabble was armed, that negligence is better than a conscious desire to lead an armed revolt. But it is not much of an endorsement for giving him back the nuclear football.

Still, it won’t do to pretend Trump had nothing to do with Roe being overturned on the grounds that he simply nominated the same Supreme Court justices that any other Republican president would have. Ronald Reagan’s nominees went two for four on overturning Roe in Casey v. Planned Parenthood in 1992. George H.W. Bush’s went one of two. Even George W. Bush’s picks went one of two in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center. And he wouldn’t have nominated Samuel Alito, the author of the Dobbs opinion, if conservatives hadn’t forced the withdrawal of Harriet Miers.

Trump’s appointees went three for three. Yes, it was part of a conservative learning process dating back to the Reagan years. Trump nemesis Mitch McConnell also deserves considerable credit. But Trump stood by Brett Kavanaugh and resisted the urge to put up a consensus nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg rather than Amy Coney Barrett, things Jeb Bush might not have done. And it’s an open question whether the other 2016 Republicans could have beaten Hillary Clinton in the Rust Belt, as Trump did.

Like it or not, the 45th president was decisive here. To conservatives, especially pro-lifers, that matters.

In reshaping the Supreme Court, Donald Trump was aided by some of the brightest minds in the GOP working in pursuit of principle. On Jan. 6, he was aligned with a ragtag band engaged in primal scream therapy as election law. It’s not an accident which ended in victory versus disaster. 

Unfortunately for Never Trumpers, Dobbs happened. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Jan. 6 did too.

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.

Written By

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?