No candidate is perfect, but the last major candidate to try winning the Republican presidential nomination without working to earn the support of pro-lifers was the pro-abortion Rudy Giuliani, whose campaign flamed out almost as soon as the actual voting started. Donald Trump at least says he’s pro-life, but it’s hard not to be reminded of the former New York mayor after hearing his latest statements.
During a press conference last Tuesday, Trump refused to get specific when discussing abortion beyond “All I can tell you is this – I’m pro-life and I’ve been pro-life a long time,” answering a question about how he’d enforce an abortion ban by saying, “I just don’t want to talk about that right now,” and deflecting a question about the morning-after pill by changing the subject to his endorsements and his poll numbers.
Oof. No one was expecting The Donald, with his sometimes-delightful/sometimes-cringeworthy freewheeling style, to exactly respond with a sophisticated discussion of abortion punishments evolving with developing cultural mores, but surely a generic “no, we would just punish the abortionists” or at least a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” wouldn’t have been too much to ask. Stating outright that you don’t want to answer the question only reinforces the doubts as to Trump’s pro-life credentials that led a coalition of pro-life leaders last week to declare “anybody but Trump”:
On the issue of defending unborn children and protecting women from the violence of abortion, Mr. Trump cannot be trusted and there is, thankfully, an abundance of alternative candidates with proven records of pro-life leadership whom pro-life voters can support […] America will only be a great nation when we have leaders of strong character who will defend both unborn children and the dignity of women. We cannot trust Donald Trump to do either.
The issue is not that Trump was once pro-abortion. It’s not unusual that a New York businessman would adopt his culture’s conventional wisdom without giving it much thought, and pro-lifers know that seeing the blessings of new life up close is how plenty of sincere people see the light.
No, the issue is all the things he’s said since becoming pro-life—being unable to say if abortion is murder, suggesting that Planned Parenthood might still deserve partial federal funding for the “good” things they do, floating his sister (the partial-birth-abortion-upholding Judge Maryanne Trump Barry) as a “phenomenal” Supreme Court nominee, and now this.
He did make another overture to pro-lifers over the weekend with his culture-of-life editorial, but reading it is unlikely to satisfy those not already onboard with him. It’s a pretty generic piece that hits all the obligatory “safe” pro-life notes—pro-life with rape, incest, and life-of-the-mother exceptions, overturn Roe, and eliminate tax funding for abortion providers—but little that suggests original thought or deep passion for the cause. Frankly, it reads like a ghostwriter churned it out in an hour.
So pro-lifers are wary, and Trump is doing little to reassure them. However, Trump is also gambling that he doesn’t need to give pro-lifers anything more than lip service—his candidacy is less about the full range of conventional political issues, and more a combination of a couple key issues and a revolt against traditional power structures.