In Saturday night’s debate, Ted Cruz made it clear that he plans to attack Donald Trump head-on for South Carolina’s social-conservative voters. His new ad takes up the hottest debate in politics at the moment, Supreme Court nominations, and turns it on Trump. Can you really trust the power to nominate Supreme Court justices to a man who once described himself as “very pro-choice,” Cruz’s ad asks?
TIM RUSSERT: Would President Trump ban partial-birth abortions?
DONALD TRUMP: Well look, I’m very pro-choice.
RUSSERT: But you would not ban it?
RUSSERT: Or ban partial birth abortions?
TRUMP: No, I am pro-choice in every respect.
How much damage will this do to Trump’s standing in South Carolina? This clip has floated around since Trump’s first flirtation in presidential politics in 2011, and he has been repeatedly pressed to explain his change of heart in the years since. Trump insists that life experiences between 1999 and 2011 changed his heart on abortion, but at the same time Trump has kept defending the nation’s largest abortion-mill chain as a group that does wonderful things for women — up to and including in Saturday’s debate. That might make undecided voters reluctant to throw in with Trump, but it hasn’t stopped that from happening so far.
As far as Trump’s supporters go, this will be an asked-and-answered issue. While they may be mainly pro-life, the issues that drive Trump supporters have little to do with social conservatism. They follow him for his hard-line rhetoric on immigration and — the extent of which is perhaps not fully appreciated — his protectionist positions on trade and the global economy. He’s talking to blue-collar, working-class Americans who found themselves displaced by globalization and are very, very angry about it. Supreme Court nominations may hold some interest to them, but it’s not driving their passions or their political support. It’s an interesting attack, but the issue of trust is more applicable to those already in the GOP who have not addressed those key blue-collar concerns effectively enough.