Did Donald Trump finally shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any votes? Politically speaking, of course. And will it help or hurt him in a primary or general election?
So often when Trump just sounds crazy, it turns out he’s on to something. That might be the case with how he’s handling abortion.
Trump’s “Pro-Life” Stance
The 45th president, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press with Kristin Welker, said the Florida restriction on abortions after a heartbeat can be detected is a “terrible thing.”
He vowed to bring both sides together and asserted it’s a question of weeks. He just didn’t say how many weeks, only that six weeks was terrible.
He’s also called himself the most pro-life President ever. While most of us doubt Trump’s heart is in the pro-life movement, he does have a point. He accomplished more for the movement than anyone, appointing three of the five justices who voted to scrap Roe v. Wade. He was also the only President to speak at the March for Life rallies in Washington.
Except for a few positions, politics is transactional for Trump the businessman. The pro-lifers helped get him elected, so he’d help them.
Brokering the Deal
So, what’s up now? Well, Trump blames the GOP’s flat-footed response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade for poor performance in the 2022 midterm elections. That’s not entirely without merit, but it’s also very convenient as it allows Trump to avoid blaming himself and the horrible Trump-endorsed primary candidates that led to losing winnable general elections.
Also, Trump’s abortion comments don’t seem to appease anyone. Trump’s fanciful dreams of brokering an Abraham Accords-style deal between the National Right to Life Committee and NARAL Pro-Choice America isn’t going to happen.
Trying to have it both ways on abortion is not going to help Trump pick up votes among suburban women who just don’t like him to start with. There are basically two types that vote on the abortion issue – ardent pro-lifers and ardent pro-choicers.
That changed somewhat after overturning Roe v. Wade, when the prospect of an outright ban seemed plausible.
Donald Trump in the Middle
All that said, maybe Trump is on to something.
Of course, he’s wrong to say he’ll solve the issue once and for all. People on both sides are too dug in.
But going back to his first presidential run in 2015 and 2016, he violated Republican Party orthodoxy on several fronts but managed to say what a majority of Americans across political lines were thinking. Even if he often stated it in the most clumsy, crass way.
If elected again in 2024, Trump won’t gain congressional Democratic support for a moderate abortion proposal. But mainstream Democratic voters would probably be OK with restricting abortion to something consistent with most European Union countries, where abortion is generally restricted to 12-18 weeks.
The fact is that probably about 10 percent of Americans want to ban abortion, with no exceptions, and another 10 percent want abortion on demand with zero restrictions. But about 80 percent (rightly or wrongly) support legality with restrictions, or as Trump said, “You will win on this issue when you come up with the right number of weeks.”
There’s likely more overlap among self-identified pro-lifers and self-identified pro-choicers than we realize. The key is finding what restrictions have consensus support.
A restriction at 15 weeks seems to be the most common among states. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also proposed limiting abortions to no more than 15 weeks nationally. Most elected Democrats are unable to say if they would support any restriction up to nine months. Since that’s extraordinarily rare, that should be an easy one.
Also, as is the case on many issues, Republicans should consider language. In this case, the GOP has allowed Democrats and the media to say Republican state legislatures have passed “abortion bans” across the United States. Speed limits don’t “ban” anyone from driving. Currently, not a single state has completely banned abortion.
Maybe Trump – in an awkward way – has it figured out politically, again. There are also those times when Trump’s clumsy comments lead nowhere. We’ll know soon enough where this leads.
Barbara Joanna Lucas is a writer and researcher in Northern Virginia. She has been a healthcare professional, political blogger, is a proud dog mom, and news junkie. Follow her on Twitter @BasiaJL.