When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, he promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who were certain to overturn Roe v. Wade. And that’s exactly what he did.
More than anyone in Republican politics, Trump has reshaped the court so that the landmark abortion rights decision is doomed to fall. Yet the former president, ever eager to brag about his every accomplishment, has been unusually quiet about his own breakthrough role.
His silence may be evidence of his change in political fortunes and the extent to which he commandeered the party. In 2016, Trump faced a sprawling primary field and doubts about whether he even opposed abortion. He needed to reassure a skeptical GOP electorate that he would be a reliable ally.
But looking ahead to the 2024 GOP primary, Trump is a more formidable contender. Polls show him comfortably at the top of the potential field. If he decides to run again, he would probably win. So he no longer needs to woo anti-abortion voters who have already seen him deliver. They are locked up.
“I don’t think the Supreme Court’s decision will be the determining factor of who backs Trump in the primary if he chooses to run,” said Corey Lewandowski, the former president’s former campaign manager and long-time confidant. Trump date. “What we’re going to see is if Donald Trump runs again, he’s going to be the Republican nominee.”
More valuable to Trump are general election voters — especially suburban women who ditched him for Joe Biden in 2020. Most don’t want an anti-abortion warrior in the West Wing. A recent survey found that 57% of women want Roe to be respected, compared to 50% of men. That may explain Trump’s reluctance: Moderate voters need not be reminded that he helped wrest a constitutional right they hoped would endure.
Other potential GOP candidates are in a more precarious position. Their priority is to win over the conservative activists who enjoy outsized influence in the primary races. It means bolstering their own anti-abortion principles — at Trump’s expense if need be.
Mike Pence, who was Trump’s vice president, made an implicit distinction with his former boss when he spoke to reporters in South Carolina recently. Pence said he was involved in the “cause of the right to life for my entire adult life.” This is not the case for Trump. In 1999, when Trump was 53, he appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and said he was “very pro-choice.”
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian who is also preparing for a presidential race, tweeted that if Roe is overthrown, those who have exploited the issue for “political gain” could “abandon our principles.” It’s unclear whether Pompeo was suggesting that Trump might become wavering once Roe is hit and states regain the power to ban abortion outright. He did not give names. But Pompeo’s message was unequivocal: He is a true believer who can be trusted to stop cold abortion, while others cannot.
Abortion numbers will be an issue in the 2024 Republican primary that will test the field in novel ways. For decades, candidates have been widely pressured to adopt party orthodoxy and say they oppose legal abortion and want Roe overthrown. Only 38 percent of Republicans and those leaning toward the GOP think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. (For Democrats, the figure is 80%.) Now that the court is set to eliminate Roe, the candidates will face a series of tough questions about how states should balance health and safety. a woman with fetal viability.
Do they support banning abortion after six weeks like Texas has – a point where a woman may not even know she’s pregnant? Should a woman who has an abortion in violation of state law be criminally punished? A bill recently passed by a Louisiana House panel called abortion a “homicide,” potentially exposing women to a murder charge if they terminate their pregnancies.
Scott Walker, a former Republican governor of Wisconsin, said many candidates who say they oppose abortion rights have never really grasped the complexity of the issue. “You’re going to see people pretending to be pro-life flip-flops everywhere,” he told NBC News. ” There will be [voters] who want the real deal: someone who can defend that position with passion. »
Trump stumbled on the abortion issue in 2016, when he said in an interview that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions after his ban. He later backtracked on that comment, after it drew a rebuke from one of his chief GOP rivals at the time, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who said Trump didn’t ” seriously thought about the problems”.
What is evident is that several potential presidential candidates will adopt an anti-abortion platform to Trump’s right. Two of them, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, have signed abortion ban bills that make no exceptions for rape and incest.
When Pompeo was a Republican congressman from Kansas, he told an interviewer that he opposed abortion in cases where the mother had been raped, saying “that child – regardless of conception – is a life”.
This is not Trump’s position. He said he would support abortion in cases of rape and incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger. Trump defined these exceptions in 2019, days after Alabama enacted a strict law banning abortion in all cases unless the mother’s life was in danger. Trump didn’t mention Alabama by name, but the timing suggested he disagreed with the state’s tough stance.
Pence has consistently opposed abortion rights, though he has been skeptical about which exceptions should apply. Responding to a questionnaire from Indiana Right to Life in 2010, then-Congressman Pence said abortion should never be legal. A 2012 gubernatorial candidate, he answered the questionnaire saying that abortion should only be legal to protect the life of the mother. Asked about Pence’s belief today, one of his aides told NBC News the former vice president supported three exceptions: rape, incest and mother’s life.
This position mirrors that of Trump. Still, some conservatives think Pence, an evangelical Christian, is a better bet to pursue policies banning abortion altogether.
“I have no doubt that Mike Pence – with his pro-life stance, his pro-family stance – was whispering in Mr. Trump’s ear and saying, ‘We have to get pro-life,'” Mark Smith said. , President. from Columbia International University in South Carolina, where Pence recently delivered a commencement address. (Pence is no longer on Trump’s ear; the two had a falling out when Pence challenged Trump by certifying Biden’s 2020 victory.)
If the Supreme Court’s draft opinion is valid, it would be one of the most important decisions in history, one that would bear the indelible imprint of Trump. Three of the justices signing the majority opinion are likely to be those he named. That won’t necessarily bode well for Trump in a general election, given the level of national support that Roe v. Wade brings. But none of his rivals in a GOP primary can claim to have delivered on such an ambitious campaign promise.
“President Trump has the advantage of keeping his word,” John McLaughlin, a Trump pollster, told NBC News. “When he first started running for president, a lot of people were skeptical when he said he was pro-life. Now he’s proven them wrong and got the support of a lot of people. people who were skeptical.