Trump Bets That Voters Will Buy His Feigned Moderation On Abortion

DORAL, FLORIDA - APRIL 07: Former U.S. President Donald Trump looks on at the 18th green during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational - Miami at Trump National Doral Miami on April 07, 2024 in Doral, Florida. (Photo... DORAL, FLORIDA - APRIL 07: Former U.S. President Donald Trump looks on at the 18th green during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational - Miami at Trump National Doral Miami on April 07, 2024 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images) MORE LESS
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

Two things are undoubtedly true: Donald Trump has no “religious conviction” leading him to oppose abortion (The Bulwark’s Sarah Longwell says voters often assume that he’s paid for abortions in her focus groups), and he knows the Dobbs decision and everything stemming from it make for terrible electoral politics for his party.

Those two truths led to his long and rambling video statement Monday, where he both expressed pride in appointing the justices who overturned Roe, and said that he wants to leave abortion to the states, to the “will of the people.” 

It’s a clear effort to triangulate on an issue that has cost Republicans dearly since the Dobbs ruling. And more importantly to Trump, this is the first election he’ll be running in since then. It’s a politically transparent attempt to lure back the voters, many of them women, who have defected due to abortion extremism. 

It’s also, obviously, baloney. 

Nowhere in the video does Trump say that his devotion to state autonomy is so great that he won’t sign a federal ban, should he win the White House and his party, Congress.

He doesn’t promise not to appoint a Food and Drug Administration commissioner who would revoke the authorization of abortion drug mifepristone, something anti-abortion activists are trying to do in federal court currently (the Supreme Court is poised to hand down a decision on reimposing restrictions on the drug). He doesn’t take the 19th century Comstock Act off the table, something his Department of Justice could use without any new legislation to keep mifepristone and its (currently) less regulated partner, misoprostol, from being mailed. 

He’s making a bet that feigned moderation will be enough to see him through the election, when he will then be free to impose whichever restrictions his anti-abortion supporters demand. 

Part of that bet depends on the credulity of mainstream media outlets to buy his new framing, despite his frequent crowing about overturning Roe, and his very recent willingness to embrace national gestational bans (he supported a 16 week one, like, a month and a half ago, per a report from the New York Times). But betting on the goldfish-like memories of the big outlets is always a safe one.

NYT: Trump Says Abortion Restrictions Should Be Left to the States

Washington Post: Trump says abortion should be left to states, does not endorse national limit

Playing the coverage is easy. The tricky part is keeping the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately anti-abortion activists at bay, hoping they read into his wink and nod without forcing him to be more explicitly in their camp. The results there are pretty good for him too, at least so far.

“We are deeply disappointed in President Trump’s position,” Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement, adding that “leave it to the states” cedes the debate to Democrats.

But, but, but: “With lives on the line, SBA Pro-Life America and the pro-life grassroots will work tirelessly to defeat President Biden and extreme congressional Democrats.”

No skin off Trump’s back then! 

“We clearly have some work to do to educate President Trump in the many ways that abortion has been made federal. But with the mutual goals of supporting families and welcoming young children, I can work with this,” Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins tweeted. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), sponsor of a 15-week federal ban, expressed the mildest displeasure to the extent that it matters (it doesn’t): “I respectfully disagree with President Trump’s statement that abortion is a states’ rights issue. Dobbs does not require that conclusion legally and the pro-life movement has always been about the wellbeing of the unborn child — not geography.”

The Biden campaign immediately pounced on the statement, tying Florida’s most prominent resident to the soon-to-be-imposed six week ban the state’s Supreme Court greenlit last week.

“In states like Florida, abortion will likely soon be illegal before many women know they’re pregnant,” Biden said in a statement. “Because of Donald Trump, one in three women in America already live under extreme and dangerous bans that put their lives at risk and threaten doctors with prosecution for doing their jobs.” 

“Let there be no illusion,” he added. “If Donald Trump is elected and the MAGA Republicans in Congress put a national abortion ban on the Resolute Desk, Trump will sign it into law.”

That’s the conclusion Trump will try to evade for the next seven months, and the one Biden will hammer. It’ll also prove the ultimate abortion politics test case, where the proud creator of the Dobbs Court tries the contortions necessary to both get credit for his authorship and to distance himself from its gruesome ramifications. 

Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: