As we discussed on Saturday, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made some preliminary moves to satisfy pro-life skeptics that they should vote for him. But how strong is his case, and how far does he have to go?
Trump’s pro-life platform is imperfect but solid—opposition to abortion (with rape, incest, and life of the mother exceptions), defunding Planned Parenthood, saying Roe v. Wade needs to be overturned, promising to sign the 20-week abortion ban, promising pro-life judicial nominees, and bringing in a principled and knowledgeable advisor, John Mashburn, to further guide him on pro-life policies.
Unfortunately, it’s much easier to list a bunch of promises than it is to deliver them.
The question, then, is whether pro-lifers can trust him to follow through on all of this. Trump’s late reversal from being “very pro-choice” and contradictory statements afterward, his stubborn insistence on continuing to praise Planned Parenthood, unfamiliarity with pro-life thought on punishing women, desire to elevate abortion exceptions from a strategic measure to moral stand, and seeming lack of interest in the Constitution all continue to give many in the movement doubts.
It would be highly unwise for Team Trump to assume that Hillary Clinton’s pro-abortion extremism will just push all of them into his waiting arms. If he wants to really work at gaining pro-lifers’ confidence, there are a few things he must do above and beyond my judicial advice from last week (whether he will is, of course, a different story):
- Apologize for slobbering over the “wonderful things” Planned Parenthood does, for wanting to weaken the GOP abortion platform, and for embarrassing the pro-life cause with the talk of punishing women. I know apologies are hard for you, but it won’t do to simply drop the rhetoric and hope people forget about it. Showing real humility and regret may be the only way for it to impress skeptics, especially given your image as someone who never faults himself for anything. You can even tie them in to your “pro-life convert” narrative, framing it as an olive branch from someone who wants to learn more in order to make amends for his past.
- Sit down with Mashburn, take Students for Life up on their training course offer, and really study the issue and the policies before you say anything else on the subject. Take the time and effort to learn not simply talking points, but the history and reasoning behind our principles and what experience has taught us about messaging and legislation. Mitt Romney was far from perfect, but he did that before his conversion—meeting with a biomedical ethics expert for several hours to discuss the intricacies of conception and human development before deciding on embryonic stem-cell research—and it showed.
- Go above and beyond the norm for pro-life politicians with even bolder specific promises, like support for the Life at Conception Act to assert the rights of the preborn under the 14th Amendment. Excite pro-lifers with the possibility of getting more than just going through the motions out of your presidency, that it would actually get us appreciably closer to the end of abortion-on-demand.
- Make the right to life from conception to natural death a recurring staple of your stump speeches, including lending support to pro-lifers in ongoing state controversies. Be proactive in helping the pro-life cause, rather than just trotting it out only when asked. Put more effort into the cause than checking off a box on the presidential job application.
- Name a running mate and Cabinet officials who are proven, rock-solid champions for the preborn, plus an expert in constitutional originalism to further advise your decisions. Don’t ask pro-lifers to simply hope that you’d fight for us after fighting against us for so many years, but assemble a team of people we know would fight for us.
- If you become president, fight to fulfill as much of the above as possible early in your first term. Take every opportunity to prove yourself. Spend real political capital on the preborn. Know that if your presidency consists of nothing more than signing the occasional pro-life bill that Congress happens to send your way, there will be hell to pay.
Ultimately, all pro-lifers will have to decide for themselves how these and all the other factors at play will inform their views on Mr. Trump.