Even Never Trumpers Think His Abortion Game Is a Smart Move

While Donald Trump’s long-awaited statement on abortion didn’t commit to much—neglecting to promise a national abortion ban while vaguely endorsing states’ rights—the former president still managed to piss off a healthy portion of the anti-abortion Republicans supporting him.

That may have been the point.

Almost immediately Monday, the backlash started with the Susan B. Anthony List, one of the GOP’s leading anti-abortion groups, which said it was “deeply disappointed” in Trump’s stance. Ultimately, the group said, Trump’s new position—if you can really call it that—“cedes the national debate to the Democrats.”

Bob Vander Plaats, a power player in the pro-life movement and a prominent Iowa Republican who endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the GOP primary, told The Daily Beast he was also “deeply disappointed” in Trump’s statement.

“The pro-life community is looking for more,” Vander Plaats told The Daily Beast in an email, also deriding Trump for ceding leadership to the left. “No, Mr. Trump, a baby’s life and death is not a state’s rights issue; it’s a right and wrong issue. That little child in her mother’s womb—she’s a baby, and she deserves her birth day [sic].”

But it wasn’t just advocacy groups who were upset. Republicans, including some of Trump’s staunchest allies, expressed their displeasure with their party leader’s decision to not immediately back a national abortion ban.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a Trump ally whose support of the former president is often so over-the-top that he is frequently seen as the caricature of a Trump sycophant, took the rare step of publicly disagreeing with his master, saying in a statement that “I respectfully disagree with President Trump’s statement that abortion is a states’ rights issue” and that the Dobbs decision is about the “wellbeing of the unborn child—not geography.”

(True to form, Trump repeatedly lashed out at Graham, eventually saying in a post on Truth Social that, “I blame myself for Lindsey Graham, because the only reason he won in the Great State of South Carolina is because I Endorsed him!”)

While Trump’s abortion statement drew some conservative criticism, he did find plenty of cover among MAGA hardliners in the Senate Monday night.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) told reporters he thought Trump took “generally the right approach.”

“We don’t have a national referendum system,” Hawley said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)—another staunch opponent of abortion—also managed to seem to side with Trump, telling reporters “it’s the voters who decide,” not an unelected Supreme Court “decreeing a rule for everyone and disenfranchising the voters.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), considered the most conservative member of Senate GOP leadership, also said he agreed with “President Trump’s position,” adding that “the Supreme Court got it right” when it struck down baseline abortion protections in Roe v. Wade in favor of letting states determine their abortion policies.

Trump’s abortion statement Monday, advertised as a major tone-setting event, was meant to neutralize one of the best Democratic talking points against him: that Trump would sign a national abortion ban.

Although that was the clear implication of his statement, much to the chagrin of his Evangelical Christian base, it left him plenty of wiggle room. And even if key GOP constituencies weren’t ecstatic with his position, his attempts to nullify a powerful Democratic attack now—notably, after the Republican primary—are clearly an important political step for the party come November.

Former president Donald Trump looks on at the 18th green during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational


Former president Donald Trump looks on at the 18th green during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational.

Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

One GOP member of Congress, granted anonymity to speak candidly about Trump’s moves, had a blunt assessment of Trump’s stance on abortion: that it has nothing to do with protecting the unborn.

“For him, it’s about getting elected—not the issue,” this lawmaker said.

Indeed, Trump seems much more consumed with the prospect of getting elected than imposing a national abortion ban. And while that may upset some of his base, there’s no evidence those voters will now turn to President Joe Biden. Trump has proven his anti-abortion credentials after appointing three Supreme Court justices who enabled the conservative majority to overturn national abortion rights.

In short, it’s smart politics—and even some Never Trump Republicans begrudgingly acknowledged that.

“It’s actually a savvy take,” said Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former Trump White House strategic communications director, co-host of ABC’s The View, and contributor to The Daily Beast. “He can claim the conservative mantle that he’s for states’ rights. And he avoids the political liability of calling for 15 weeks, which Republicans see as a betrayal on the life issue and Democrats will frame as a national abortion ban.”

Still, with Trump giving himself so much latitude, there are Republicans who don’t think the former president has done enough to quell voter concerns on abortion.

An adviser from Trump’s 2016 campaign who supported another candidate in the primary told The Daily Beast the former president is about to find out what a mess he created for himself by appointing the three Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade.

“Back then, he got the benefit of the doubt,” the former Trump adviser said. “He wasn’t a Republican in the beginning. He wasn’t a big church guy—he got churchy when he started running… But in order to get elected now, he’s gotta start walking it back.”

While it may seem like he’s “walking it back,” he’s left open quite a bit of room for interpretation. Trump and his allies are almost certain to claim different things in different rooms. But those closest to the president claimed to The Daily Beast Monday that he’s never been as anti-abortion as he’s been perceived—or as much as he gets credit for after appointing Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Trump has never been as right-wing on the issue of abortion as some of his staunchest supporters in the pro-life community,” a pro-Trump operative told The Daily Beast. “His position on abortion today is the same position his campaign laid out for him a year ago. I don’t think it should really be a surprise.”

A Never Trump Republican presidential campaign adviser, who also requested anonymity to avoid reprisal in Trumpworld, said they didn’t see the value in Trump being so vague in his statement.

“He really didn’t say anything, so I don’t think the heat from the pro-lifers is gonna go away because he’s so wishy-washy,” this campaign veteran told The Daily Beast. “I was listening to that and I thought, this man isn’t saying anything.”

That is just how Trump works, this operative said. He is purposefully vague, leaving open the possibility that he would sign a federal abortion ban if one did in fact come across his desk. But that just isn’t where the voters are at the moment, the pro-Trump operative said.

“The problem isn’t Trump’s views on abortion, the problem right now is the majority of Americans don’t want federal pro-life legislation. Winning the hearts and minds of those Americans should be the goal of the pro-life movement,” they said.

Despite the week-long anticipation over what Trump would say, the Never Trump campaign adviser said Trump landed himself right back where he started.

“I don’t think it helps him in any way,” this person said. “I still think abortion is a really horrible issue for Republicans.”

Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former White House aide in the Trump administration, speaks during The Principles First 2024 Summit.


Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former White House aide in the Trump administration, speaks during The Principles First 2024 Summit.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Farah Griffin noted Trump “has never had any core conviction on the issue,” but his survival instincts came through in the statement.

“Now he’s repositioning to punt responsibility for the more extreme abortion decisions on Republican governors and off of himself,” Farah Griffin told The Daily Beast.

Although the former president may have taken some short term heat, she argued, he may have managed to leave the GOP holding the bag in an effort to distance himself from his own party and record on abortion.

“Remarkably,” she said, “the man responsible for the Dobbs decision has found a way to make it everyone’s fault but his.”

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