Trump’s most loyal base during his one-term presidency were evangelical Christians and pro-lifers.
Yet, instead of embracing his loyal base of pro-lifers, President Trump has been pushing them away and creating a rift which could be exploited by other Republican presidential contenders like Ron DeSantis.
The first rift in Trump’s relationship with the pro-life movement came after the 2022 midterm elections, when President Trump shocked many pro-lifers by publishing a message on his “Truth” social media platform in which he blamed the lackluster electoral results on pro-life politicians who wished to protect children conceived in rape and incest and on pro-lifers who didn’t show up to the polls.
Impact of Rape and Incest Exceptions in Elections
A careful analysis of the highest profile GOP losses in the 2022 midterm shows that the candidate’s position on rape and incest did not appear to impact the outcome of the campaign.
In fact, one after another pro-life candidate who accepted Trump’s endorsement along with his advice to include rape and incest exceptions, ended up losing anyways. GOP candidates for US Senate in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and New York all included rape and incest exceptions in their platform and still lost. Others who didn’t publicly support rape and incest exceptions like Senator Rand Paul and Texas Governor Greg Abbot won their elections in landslides. Still others, like Michigan’s Tudor Dixon, took a principled stand against justifying the killing of children conceived in rape or incest, but also lost.
While abortion proved a convenient narrative for the pro-abortion legacy media, and for politicians trying to explain away the disappointing lack of a “red wave”, the reality was that the races were impacted by campaign spending far more than by any particular positions taken by the candidates. This was specially noteworthy (although it was not mentioned in any legacy media analysis) when it came to abortion-related ballot measures, which were overwhelmingly funded by leftist pro-abortion billionaires who gave abortion proponents anywhere from a 50:1 to a 3:1 fundraising advantage over pro-lifers.
Trump’s States Rights Strategy Questioned
The second large rift came towards the end of April when a very public political fight broke out between the Trump campaign and the most politically active pro-life organization in the United States, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
The public disagreement started when one of President Trump’s campaign spokesmen, Steven Cheung told the Washington Post that the President was not going to focus on abortion in his second term because abortion was now a state issue.
That statement was immediately contrasted with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recently signed a six-week abortion ban by a media equally bent on attacking DeSantis and Trump over their support of the right to life. To the surprise of the pro-life movement, Trump’s reaction to Florida’s pro-life law was to withhold his support and to assure the media that abortion was no longer a priority for him.
Former president Donald Trump has barely spoken about the issue, telling advisers that he believes it is a difficult one for Republicans and not something he should focus his time on. His campaign did not directly answer whether Trump agreed with the six-week ban in Florida or what policies he would support nationally but instead said Trump believes the issue should be left up to individual states. “States’ rights,” Trump has said privately when advisers have floated the issue, adding his assessment that they should not talk about it.
“President Donald J. Trump believes that the Supreme Court, led by the three Justices which he supported, got it right when they ruled this is an issue that should be decided at the State level,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement. “Republicans have been trying to get this done for 50 years, but were unable to do so. President Trump, who is considered the most pro-life President in history, got it done. He will continue these policies when reelected to the White House. Like President Reagan before him, President Trump supports exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”
Asked again directly whether Trump agreed or disagreed with the law DeSantis signed, the campaign did not respond.Washington Post 4/20/23
Susan B. Anthony List’s President Marjory Dannenfelser immediately issued a strongly worded press release criticizing President Trump’s abortion-neutral position.
“President Trump’s assertion that the Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion solely to the states is a completely inaccurate reading of the Dobbs decision and is a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold. Life is a matter of human rights, not states’ rights. Saying that the issue should only be decided at the states is an endorsement of abortion up until the moment of birth, even brutal late-term abortions in states like California, Illinois, New York and New Jersey. The only way to save these children is through federal protections, such as a 15-week federal minimum standard when the unborn child can feel excruciating pain.
“We will oppose any presidential candidate who refuses to embrace at a minimum a 15-week national standard to stop painful late-term abortions while allowing states to enact further protections.SBA Pro-Life America Press Release 4/20/23
Dannenfelser correctly pointed out that the Supreme Court was very clear in stipulating that while, in the justice’s opinion, the constitution is “abortion neutral”, it was up to the people and their elected representatives (local, state and federal) to decide. In fact, the Dobbs v. Jackson opinion referred to the “people and their elected representatives” no fewer than nine times in the majority and concurrence, while the only mention of abortion being “left up to the states” was in Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan’s dissenting opinion.
The real reason for the rift between SBA and President Trump is that SBA Pro-Life America is pushing for a national 15-week abortion ban similar to what Mississippi passed that gave rise to the Supreme Court’s opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade and President Trump has been unwilling to publicly support it, deferring instead to the states rights argument.
Dannenfelser closed her press release with a stern warning to politicians who decided to wash their hands of the responsibility of fighting the evil of abortion, and especially those running for president.
Holding to the position that it is exclusively up to the states is an abdication of responsibility by anyone elected to federal office. This holds especially true for the president, more than any other federal official, because he or she has a responsibility to forge national consensus and progress on the most egregious human rights violation of our time.
Trump’s Loyal Followers Demand Fealty From Pro-Lifers
Following the release of SBA’s letter, many supporters of President Trump came to his defense, arguing that pro-lifers owed President Trump their support for the actions taken during his first term.
A typical article was written by Gavin Wax a young Republican columnist for Townhall and Newsmax. The article, titled, “pro-life activists owe Donald trump their support” credits Donald Trump with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and calls SBA’s refusal to give President Trump a pass on the 15-week abortion ban, the “most insidious and shameful of betrayals” motivated by the “money power running the show in the Republican establishment.”
The real reason that pro-life groups are rejecting or, at the very least, chilly toward Trump’s presidential ambitions is because his decisive action to repeal Roe ended their gravy train. The pro-life groups had been dangling the carrot in front of Republican voters: ‘Vote for the RINO, and Roe may be repealed.’, ‘Get to the polls and vote Republican because it will mean we can repeal Roe.’, and so forth. Like Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown at the last possible moment before he could kick, these promises were never meant to be fulfilled. Pro-life groups never changed their philosophy or their tactics despite failure after failure because they were always meant to lose. They existed to keep corralling Christian voters to vote for lousy Republican politicians and playing their dutiful role within the controlled opposition apparatus.Pro-Life Activists Owe Donald Trump Their Support in 2024, Townhall.com 4/28/23
While it is true that President Trump did more to advance the pro-life cause than past presidents, it would be incorrect and unfair to the thousands of pro-life advocates inside and outside of government to portray the fall of Roe v. Wade as a one-man show.
In reality, the downfall of Roe v. Wade was a generational effort with multiple actors across the political and legal spectrum playing critical roles often unbeknownst even to themselves.
Of the five justices of the Supreme Court who overturned Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs case, the majority opinion’s author and the author of the strongest concurrence were, in fact, not appointed by President Trump. Justice Alito was appointed by President GW Bush, and Justice Thomas was appointed by his father President George Bush.
Another important factor quite outside of Donald Trump’s control was that he had the exceptionally good fortune to make three appointments during his one-term presidency with a small Republican majority in the US Senate. In the Senate, GOP majority leader Mitch McConnell – not exactly a darling of Christian conservatives – was able to not only block Obama’s final supreme court nominee, the now infamous Attorney General Merrick Garland, but also thread the needle and push through difficult and last minute nominations that were mercilessly attacked by the radical left.
Ironically, perhaps the most decisive role played in the downfall of Roe v. Wade was acted out by one of the most radically pro-abortion judges, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. During the second term of the Obama administration, political strategists on the left publicly discussed the possibility that Ginsburg, then in her late 80’s retire in time to give President Obama another Supreme Court justice to secure a liberal court. In later interviews, Ginsburg fired back that towards the end of the Obama administration, and with a Republican Senate, Obama would not have been able to get someone as ideologically liberal as herself confirmed. Ginsburg’s statement was true, given the Republican blockade of Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016 after the untimely death of Justice Scalia. But in reality, Ginsburg could have retired and ensured a younger leftist replacement at any time from 2008 to 2015, which were years in which President Obama had a Democrat controlled US Senate. In 2015, Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have been 82 with a history of having survived two prior bots of cancer, but her desire for power prevented her from stepping down. Believing she could outlast the presidency of Donald Trump, she held on even during the final stages of her life, even when she could not attend the oral arguments and was receiving aggressive treatment for her pancreatic cancer. She would die on September 18, 2020 less than two months before the November Presidential election, ironically giving Donald Trump and the Republican-led Senate the last seat necessary to ensure Roe v. Wade could be overturned. Appointed soon after Justice Ginsburg’s death, Amy Coney Barrett would be confirmed just days before the 2020 election.
While it is undoubtedly true that President Trump made the final decision on which justices to pick, and that all of his justices voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, it is well known that President Trump relied heavily on the assessment of the Federalist Society to provide him with a list of conservative justices to gather the support of Christian conservatives. In fact, the legal society’s Executive Vice-President, Leonard Leo, was described by many as the architect of Trump’s famous judicial nominee lists.
Finally, perhaps the most important element of the Trump administration that prioritized the pro-life cause was Vice President Mike Pence. His advice was crucial in the hiring of pro-life staff during the transition phase and beyond. Many of the legislative achievements like the expansion of the Mexico City Policy were believed to have been orchestrated from Pence’s office.
Pence’s relationship with Trump did not survive the 2020 election and if anything can be certain is that Pence will not be Trump’s running mate for 2024.
When SBA published a Tweet stating that “Life is a matter of human rights, not states’ rights”, Pence retweeted the SBA message.
Trump and SBA Make Up
On Monday, May 8th, SBA issued a press release stating that SBA’s President, Senator Lindsey Graham, and President Trump had a terrific meeting.
Lindsey Graham is the sponsor of the federal 15 week abortion ban.
The press release concedes that President Trump’s presidency was “the most consequential in American history for the pro-life movement” and assures the readers that President Trump opposes late-term abortion so long as children conceived in rape and incest can still be killed.
Why a mother who has conceived as a consequence of rape would need to wait until after 15 weeks before aborting her child, was not mentioned by the press release.
Trump or DeSantis?
While Donald Trump’s record during his first term was “consequential”, his biggest achievement, the appointment of three US Supreme Court justices that voted to overturn Roe v. Wade was providential and a result of many moving parts.
Trump’s first term also saw the placement of pro-lifers in key positions in the administrative state, most importantly within HHS. Many of these decisions were a result of the Vice President’s connections. Without Pence at his side, will Donald Trump appoint pro-life conservatives?
Donald Trump, who has a longer history as an abortion supporter than as a pro-lifer, has unnecessarily hurt his standing among pro-lifers by unfairly blaming principled pro-lifers for electoral losses in the midterm elections. Trump is also eroding his support from Christian conservatives by giving up the federal legislative playing field at a time when abortion advocates are very close to passing federal legislation in Congress to enshrine abortion rights.
On the other side of the potential presidential primary, Ron DeSantis recently signed a 6-week abortion ban which, if enforced, would effectively end most surgical abortions. That law also includes exceptions for rape and incest which would allow innocent children to be put to death for the crimes of their fathers. But DeSantis has also shown the ability to lead legislative initiatives and build up increasingly large political majorities, something Trump has not been able to do failing to create support for a movement beyond his own personal following.
On the national scale, DeSantis served several terms as a US Representative and supported the major pro-life legislation, but he was not a co-sponsor of the Life at Conception Act during the 114th congress.
Because DeSantis has not yet declared his candidacy, there is speculation as to whether he will embrace the pro-life cause, as Trump did in his first term, or run away from it, as Trump seems to be doing during the current presidential campaign.