The 2022 pivot to the general was a particularly shameless spectacle to witness. In the weeks leading up to the midterm elections last November, we saw a handful of far-right, Trump-backed Republican candidates who managed to win their primary elections on 2020 grievances soften their policy positions.
Concerned about dampening turnout and the unpopularity of the 2020 redux among general voters, election deniers flailed as they tried to run away from their months-old hardline positions. We witnessed the same pivoting on the abortion front. Extremist candidates like Blake Masters tried to tweak their absolutist positions on abortion into policy a bit easier to stomach for a general election audience.
This watering down of policy positions from the primary to the general isn’t new. But the midterms were the first major election since the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, and Republican strategists still didn’t quite comprehend the energizing power abortion would have on that election and others in the future.
Donald Trump, though, apparently had an inkling that his grand success in getting the right justices on the high court to overturn Roe might come back to bite some of his allies.
The former president made an appearance on Michigan Republican Tudor Dixon’s podcast in an episode that aired Tuesday. During the discussion, Dixon, a conservative media personality and failed-Republican gubernatorial candidate who Trump endorsed last year, revealed that Trump advised her to tone down her abortion rhetoric at some point before the general election. Like many 2022 races, the gubernatorial race in Michigan last year was widely seen as a referendum on abortion due to the timing post-Dobbs, incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) abortion rights advocacy and a simultaneous ballot measure that asked voters to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution.
Dixon, who campaigned as an anti-abortion candidate, was criticized for not saying whether she would support abortion exemptions for rape victims.
Here’s a snippet of the conversation, emphasis mine:
Dixon: I just want you to know that and I’ll tell my viewers that you came to me and you said, you got to talk differently about abortion. And we could not pivot, we could not pivot in time. And it really… You were absolutely right, sir. And I hope that you are able to navigate that issue in 24 and that we can win those women back because they are already putting out attack ads, and it is not a fair issue for them to attack on.
Trump: Yep, that’s what happened to you. And that’s what happened to a lot of other people and didn’t happen to me because, you know, there’s a way of talking about it. You know, they’re the radicals. they’re the radicals and you have to explain it. And I think exceptions are very important. They need the exceptions. You and I talked about that.
Trump has never been one to campaign in specifics. But the exceptions line is about as specific as he’s gotten on where he stands on abortion this election cycle. The most he’s spoken on the issue thus far was during a CNN town hall earlier this year when he waffled on policy and refused to directly answer questions about whether he’d support federal restrictions on the procedure, a must have for anti-abortion groups.
During a time when Republicans as a whole are flailing to plant a flag because of how unpopular abortion restrictions have proven to be in the last several elections, a window into any messaging strategy is interesting — especially after the first Republican debate revealed just how extensively the Dobbs ruling has turned Republican abortion politics on its head.
Trump may be the only Republican who has the freedom to outline any kind of nuanced position on the procedure before the primaries, as his crushing lead in national polls leaves him slightly less beholden to anti-abortion groups’ strict parameters for endorsement. Still, that nuance so far has been confined to a low-profile podcast episode.
The Best Of TPM Today
Here’s what you should read this evening:
Yesterday’s Most Read Story
What We Are Reading
Rudy Giuliani Literally Can’t Afford to Be Defaming People — New York Magazine