On Saturday night, Donald Trump told religious conservatives that he saw “a vital role for the federal government in protecting unborn life.”
He didn’t get more specific — and he didn’t face much pressure to do so, at an event celebrating one year since Trump’s Supreme Court appointees overturned Roe v. Wade.
Trump joined 10 other Republican presidential candidates at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual “Road to the Majority” conference, where some activists and lawmakers urged the party to embrace a ban on abortion after 15 weeks. He didn’t commit to the legislation, avoiding a topic that’s tripped up some Republicans in the first post-Roe election. But he was greeted like a rock star, as new polls confirmed that his indictments in Florida this month didn’t affect his formidable primary lead.
David and Shelby's view
No candidate has yet figured out how to pry away the religious conservative voters who were skeptical of Trump in 2016 but make up some of his most loyal supporters now. This isn’t complicated: Trump won when the media said he couldn’t, then ended Roe with his court appointments, delivering what preacher and conference speaker John K. Amanchukwus called “the fetal emancipation proclamation.”
Trump knows this: On Saturday — even while he remained vague on what specific role the federal government could play on abortion should he take office again — he sought to highlight his own role in making a reality what conservatives had been vying for for 50 years.
“Conservatives have been trying for 50 years, exactly 50 years … but I got it done,” Trump told the crowd. “I’m proud to be the most pro-life president in American history.”
Trump’s openness about the issue’s tricky politics — he argued Saturday that politicians “have to learn to talk about this issue,” even as he’d rather avoid it — has frustrated activists and rivals. “I don’t believe his commitments are reliable,” Asa Hutchinson told reporters outside the ballroom where the candidates spoke. Lindsey Graham, who has endorsed Trump, used his speech to promote his own 15-week ban bill, which he said the party could defend and win with.
“To those who believe there’s no role for the unborn in Washington, you are wrong,” said Graham. “Our Constitution does not require me, a United States senator, to sit on the sidelines and not be able to say anything about a baby being aborted in California in the ninth month.”
But no opponent directly challenged Trump on the question. Nikki Haley’s remarks on Saturday morning marked a repeat of what she’d said at SBA Pro-Life last month: A federal abortion ban wasn’t going to happen.
“We haven’t had 60 Senate votes in over 100 years,” Haley said. “We might have 45 pro-life senators. So let’s start talking about how we can come together on what we can agree on.” She was promoting her own campaign, but that approach has given cover to the frontrunner.
Mike Pence, his former running mate, criticized Trump unsparingly at the launch of his own campaign this month. At the conference, he quoted skittish comments that the former president had made about abortion politics, but didn’t mention Trump by name. He also tried to set the baseline on the topic, calling the 15-week ban the “minimum nationwide standard” for any nominee.
“We’ve not come to the end of our cause,” Pence said from the ballroom stage of the Washington Hilton. “We’ve simply come to the end of the beginning.”
But most discussion of abortion — on and offstage — was less about the commitment needed from a new nominee and more about what could be banned in states.
“Our pro-life movement is now entering this Walls of Jericho phase,” North Carolina Sen. Brad Overcash told a room of activists on Friday, referring to a Biblical story of Israelis marching around a besieged city until their faith in God collapsed its defenses. “We have to keep marching, put one foot in front of the other, because we never know when the next step will be the seventh time on the seventh day.”
Ralph Reed, the the Faith & Freedom Coalition founder and president, told reporters during a private lunch that Trump likely doesn’t want to head into the general election “with Joe Biden being able to go up on the air in every battleground state, the day I secure the nomination, saying I favor a federal abortion ban.”
“That’s obviously the cul-de-sac he’s trying to avoid driving into, right?” he argued.
Room for Disagreement
Lila Rose, an anti-abortion activist and founder of “Live Action,” suggested to Fox News last week that Trump, despite his past efforts on abortion, isn’t the leader best qualified to push the movement forward this time around.
The View From the DNC
The Democratic National Committee took Trump’s remarks Saturday night differently than most in attendance: In a statement, DNC Chair Jaime Harrison slammed Trump’s “endorsement of a national abortion ban” and argued that he is “responsible for the cruel abortion bans across the country.”