Trump abandons pro-lifers; they may abandon him

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference. It had been a very good five years for Republicans, starting with his own election in 1980 and, for the first time in 28 years, a Republican Senate.

He began by thanking the various groups in the room: the American Conservative Union, Young Americans for Freedom, National Review, and Human Events. “When you work in the White House, you don’t get to see your old friends as much as you’d like,” he playfully said.

And then, he delivered a line that would become famous: “And I always see the CPAC speech as my opportunity to dance with the one that brung ya.”

It was an important acknowledgment that conservatives had worked hard to wrest decades of control away from Democrats to become a mainstream party. “We are where we are because we’re winning the contest of ideas,” he said.

Reagan knew how he’d become president — it wasn’t because he was a kind of messianic figure who’d been ordained to rule over the fawning masses. It was because conservatives, who’d spent a century in the political “wilderness,” had slowly and arduously built a movement of ideas and coalitions on the backs of the very people in that room that night, a movement that went all the way back to Barry Goldwater.

Former President Donald Trump, whose loyalty has always flowed one way — to him — does not care to dance with the ones that brung him.

In a Truth Social announcement this week, he laid out his new — and vague — abortion policy.

“My view is now that we have abortion where everyone wanted it from a legal standpoint, the states will determine by vote or legislation, or perhaps both. And whatever they decide must be the law of the land. In this case, the law of the state.”

There was no mention of a national abortion ban, which is what many pro-life voters have demanded and were expecting. Nor was there a commitment to a six or 10 or even 15 week ban, which some Republican governors have since enacted after the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

While Trump often likes to take credit for that seismic judicial event, and calls himself the most pro-life president in history, kicking the issue over to the states can rightly be seen as an act of political cowardice and expediency.

He’s hinted previously at the political peril of abortion bans, calling Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ six-week ban “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.” He’s said “Other than certain parts of the country…you’re not going to win on this issue.”

But in formalizing his abandonment of a staunchly pro-life position, he’s essentially telling a loyal constituency to get over it and focus on other things — namely, “the Horrible Border, Inflation, Bad Economy and the Death & Destruction of our Country!”

They aren’t taking it lightly.

Lila Rose, a pro-life activist, released her own statement:

“In 2016, President Trump won on the back of vigorous pro-life support, and that support was vindicated with the appointment of the justices who overturned Roe v. Wade. But that support will not materialize in 2024 if President Trump holds to this anti-human and cowardly position.”

That echoes what other pro-life conservatives have warned if Trump went down this road.

In his newsletter The Transom, pro-life conservative Ben Domenech wrote last year of Trump’s moderate abortion stance, “The pro-life movement maximized the outcome of the Trump presidency in its first go-round. But this time around, he’s signaling that he’s given up on them — he assumes their loyalty for his past decisions, regardless of what he does next.”

And pro-life conservative Chris Bedford also wrote that Trump’s comments reflect a “naivete for just how many Christians will stay home if they don’t see a candidate worth voting for.”

Trump is betting that when it comes down to him or President Biden, pro-life voters will back him. It’s a big gamble, considering they are promising they won’t, and are one of the very few constituencies in his exceedingly loyal base to ever publicly condemn him.

He’s right, of course, that abortion bans are politically unpopular. He’s right to be concerned that the right’s extremism on this issue is very good for Biden. But he’s turning on a group that very much believes it is responsible for getting him elected in the first place.

“You must follow your heart, or in many cases, your religion or your faith,” he said in this new announcement. “Do what’s right for your family and do what’s right for yourself.”

Come November, many in the pro-life movement may do just that — and stay home.

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