This past weekend at the Red State Gathering, every Republican presidential hopeful demanded the defunding of Planned Parenthood in the wake of the undercover videos exposing their organ harvesting. That was at a minimum; more than one demanded a criminal investigation of the nation’s largest abortion-mill chain as well. However, Donald Trump got pushed into endorsing the status quo during an interview on CNN’s New Day, Breitbart’s John Nolte reports. Video picks up at 5:53:
“The problem that I have with Planned Parenthood is the abortion situation. It is like an abortion factory, frankly,” Trump said. “And you can’t have it. And you just shouldn’t be funding it. That should not be funded by the government, and I feel strongly about that.”
Actually, that’s not a bad answer, although Trump seems unaware that Planned Parenthood already argues that federal subsidies don’t fund abortions. However, Chris Cuomo then changed tactics by talking about the importance of the other services provided by Planned Parenthood, and Trump didn’t avoid the trap:
When pressed on non-abortion services Planned Parenthood allegedly provides, Trump said, “What I would do when the time came, I’d look at the individual things they do, and maybe some of the individual things they do are good. I know a lot of the things are bad. But certainly the abortion aspect of it should not be funded by government, absolutely.”
Trump continued, “I would look at the good aspects of [Planned Parenthood], and I would also look, because I’m sure they do some things properly and good and that are good for women, and I would look at that, and I would look at other aspects also. But we have to take care of women.”
Nolte raises the first obvious problem with that position, which is that the $500 million or so in government funding allows abortions to take place, whether it’s aimed at those services or not:
In other words Trump is open to a status quo many conservatives find unacceptable and immoral; also a typical federal government shell game to skirt around the law. If you give Planned Parenthood money for these so-called “other things,” the abortion provider can shift money from those “other things” to abortion.
Chris Cuomo tried the same argument on Trump that Mark Halperin used with Rick Perry a few weeks ago. Perry didn’t buy into the premise, and instead turned the question around on Halperin, to the delight of the Morning Joe panel at the time. Trump didn’t learn from that schooling, instead getting locked into Cuomo’s context.
Trump misses another point in this exchange too, which is that Planned Parenthood is hardly the only option for those other services that Trump wants to keep funded. In fact, no one is arguing that these services shouldn’t remain funded, but only that federal subsidies for them flow to other clinics that don’t perform abortions as their core business. The federal subsidies going to Planned Parenthood distort the market, boosting the largest player at the expense of smaller clinics more suited to deliver care in their communities. One would think that Trump would be particularly well positioned to explain that.
What makes this even more interesting is that Trump said he wanted a government shutdown to defund Planned Parenthood just eight days ago, during an appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s show:
HH: The word is that the Democrats will filibuster and the president will veto — that’s the only way to get rid of Planned Parenthood money for selling off baby parts is to shut the government down in September. Would you support that?
DT: Well I can tell you this. I would and I was also in support if the Republicans stuck together you could have done it with Obamacare also, but the Republicans decided not to stick together and they left a few people out there like Ted Cruz. You know, they left a lot of the people who really went in and wanted to do the job and you know what? If they had stuck together they wold have won that battle. I think you have to in this case also, yes.
That’s a mighty big shift from one week to the next. However, this doesn’t look like a flip-flop as much as it does a case of a candidate being unprepared. Trump’s initial response would have been solid, had he stuck to it, but he seems unaware that Planned Parenthood apologists rely on the argument that federal subsidies do not fund “the abortion aspect” of Planned Parenthood now, which is how they’ve fended off attempts to defund the company in the past. It’s not a fatal error, especially for Trump, who can certainly clarify and amend these remarks to the satisfaction of the base — as long as he remains consistent on it in the future. Even at that, though, it demonstrates the rather facile grasp on public policy issues that Trump has long demonstrated.
Besides, people who look for “fatal errors” from Trump miss the point. As I explain in my column at The Week, Trump’s popularity really isn’t about him — it’s about the voters who want to shake up a system that ignores them. That goes well beyond the fringes, and it’s happening in both parties:
Many Beltway pundits assumed that Trump’s “blood” remark would be a crash-and-burn moment. They clearly have a lot to learn about the conservative voters who will ultimately make that decision. While many of them understood and agreed with the unvitation in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s attack on Kelly, no one that I spoke to at the RedState Event had sworn him off as a candidate. These were not rabid Trump backers unwilling to tolerate criticism of a personal hero, but conservatives frustrated by a party that they feel has stopped listening to them, and largely talks over them. Many of these conservative activists see Trump as a man who breaks that pattern. They want to send a message to the GOP and force the party to pay attention to its base voters.
They aren’t alone, either. A similar dynamic has played out on the other side of the aisle. Hillary Clinton came into the race not just as a favorite, but as the only realistic option for Democrats. The Clinton team had made sure of that, packaging her as inevitable and locking up the majority of the party’s establishment donors. Yet the former secretary of state, the first woman in either party to seriously contend for the nomination, could barely fill her “reboot” event in June on New York City’s Roosevelt Island. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders — who isn’t even registered as a Democrat — has 28,000 people cramming into venues to hear him speak. One of these two contenders has become a rock star, and it’s not establishment favorite Hillary Clinton. …
Candidates like Trump might be unserious or even clownish to the media and political analysts, but the large number of people who latch onto them as a vehicle for their frustration are not. This populist impulse on both sides of the aisle threatens to derail the two-party system. Unless the leadership in both organizations starts paying more attention to voters than the status quo which those voters are rejecting — and finding leaders in anyone who can give vent to their frustration — they may be the authors of their own demise.
Some of this may sort itself out as the GOP field narrows, but that won’t solve the problem. It just may lessen the symptoms, but even that’s a long shot. The first party to understand and integrate the Internet era of populism wins in 2016.
Update: Kurt Schlichter is less patient with Trump’s supporters.