Some pro-lifers are disappointed that a guy who’s usually eager to comment about everything couldn’t find time yesterday to so much as tweet about SCOTUS’s torpedoing of Texas’s abortion law. His staff sent around some talking points to reporters reiterating that he’ll appoint pro-life justices and his “Evangelical Advisory Board” issued a statement denouncing the ruling, but not so much as a trademark “Sad!” from the man himself. How come?
Let me answer that with a question. How would it benefit Trump to comment on the ruling?
“It’s a shame,” said Penny Nance, who heads the social conservative group Concerned Women for America…
“This is the biggest abortion decision that has come down in years and Hillary Clinton was quick to comment—was all over Twitter—and yet we heard crickets from Donald Trump,” Nance said. “I’m still waiting. I’m still waiting. He needs to say something.”
And Bob Vander Plaats, who heads the socially conservative Iowa Family Leader and who previously endorsed Ted Cruz, said Trump’s silence gives him pause.
“I think it gives all pro-life leaders pause,” he said. “I think it gives all people that are looking for life as their issue, who are looking to support a presidential candidate—it gives them an unnecessary pause. There shouldn’t have to be a pause here. It could have been something that would have fueled potential support for Mr. Trump.”
He met with evangelical leaders just last week to try to sell them on his candidacy. Now the Court hands him an easy lay-up to show his commitment to the pro-life cause and he blows it. Surely his silence has cost him.
Has it, though? How many evangelical voters, who backed Trump over Ted Cruz in the primaries despite Trump not even making a serious pretense of Christian devotion, are going to cut him loose at this point over a no-comment? Ask the average evangelical how he feels about Trump’s commitment to fighting abortion and I bet as likely as not you’ll hear something about how pro-life Republicans have failed for 40 years to stop Roe’s remorseless march. To some social conservatives, Trump is merely the Republican status quo on abortion without all of the lip service. As for the Nances and Vander Plaatses of the party, most of them will eventually succumb to the argument that failing to support Trump simply makes it easier for Hillary Clinton stack the Court with aggressive pro-choicers. No less than Mike Huckabee, an ordained minister and one of the most ostentatiously Christian candidates in modern American politics, sneered at George Will and Ben Sasse yesterday for invoking something as lame as conscience in justifying their refusal to vote for Trump. If Huckabee’s willing to eat a sh*t sandwich in a red wrapper because the one in the blue wrapper smells worse, plenty of other Christian voters — possibly Nance and Vander Plaats among them — will come around too. And Trump knows it.
Meanwhile, think what he stands to lose by making noise about rolling back Roe. More so than any other recent Republican nominee, Trump is making a play for Democrats this election. There’s enough disaffection with Clinton on the left and enough protectionist overlap between Trump and Bernie Sanders that that’s a rational strategy, assuming the Republican base fully embraces the logic that anyone is better than Hillary. (And, as I say, it probably will.) Why would he confound his appeal to liberals by reminding them that he spent the past year pandering to Republican evangelicals on abortion? On top of that, Trump faces a daunting task this year in trying to win a battle of the gender gap with the first woman major-party nominee. If Hillary wins women more heavily than Trump wins men, the election’s over. Simple as that. Gallup noticed last year that a gender gap has begun to show up in polling on abortion — not an enormous one (eight points) but a gap nonetheless, which wasn’t true as recently as 2011. If Trump pushes hard on pro-life, Hillary will seize it to amplify her First! Woman! President! pitch. He’s trying to deny her some easy ammo here to gender-ize the race, which she’ll spend the next four months attempting to do.
And if those reasons for him keeping his mouth shut aren’t convincing enough, my pal Karl has another:
Big time. No subject has caused Trump to step on his schwanz rhetorically more often, and more painfully, than abortion. This is a guy who’s praised Planned Parenthood repeatedly while also saying he’d sign a bill to defund it. He once described himself long ago as “very pro-choice,” then tried to prove how solidly pro-life he is now by floating criminal punishments for women who’d abort after Roe is ever overturned, even though few pro-life groups endorse that. Then he walked that back by claiming that we should probably leave abortion laws as they are for now — while also claiming that he believes abortion is murder. Ask him about SCOTUS’s abortion ruling and there’s no telling what might come out of his mouth. In fact, if you had to bet, you might wager that whatever he ended up saying would somehow manage to inadvertently piss off pro-choicers and pro-lifers. This is a rare case where even Trump seems to understand that silence is his wisest play.
Exit question: Say, did you hear that Trump is a newly born-again Christian? James Dobson says so. Except, er…
1/That Trump conversion? Um. Dobson: "Do I know that for sure? No. Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? Can't say that I do."
— Amy Sullivan (@sullivanamy) June 28, 2016