If Donald Trump were trying to capitalize on what was arguably the most impactful policy win of his tenure, Iowa would be the perfect place to do it.
Republicans' first primary will take place in the state, which has grown increasingly red throughout the Trump era and consistently favors candidates with evangelical appeal. Indeed, Iowa Republicans are known for delivering early victories to Christian zealots who have considerably less sway in New Hampshire and ultimately flame out in the GOP primary. In 2008, Iowa Republicans elevated former pastor and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; in 2012, they chose rock-ribbed Christian conservative and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum; and in 2016, they favored Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who had fashioned himself as the second coming.
But Trump, who swept the New Hampshire primary in 2016, could easily play up his wildly successful effort to dismantle legalized abortion nationwide as a way to woo Iowa Republicans, potentially racking up two early wins.
Instead, Trump assiduously avoided the topic last weekend during his first visit to the Hawkeye State this cycle, according to the Associated Press.
From the moment he stepped off the plane in Iowa, Trump continually dodged questions about whether he would implement a federal national abortion ban. AP reporter Steve Peoples pressed him twice on the matter, but the most he could squeeze from Trump was a decidedly generic, "We're looking at a lot of different things."
After following Trump's verbal tics over a handful of years, the phrase is recognizably meaningless prattle that Trump could just as easily spout about breakfast cereal as he could about ordering a lethal hit on an international adversary.
By the time Trump had finished glad-handing with diners, speechifying, and fielding questions from voters, he hadn't once uttered the word abortion.
And despite his stellar record on upending a half-century of precedent on reproductive rights, Trump ducking the issue at every turn isn't going to fly with the forced-birther fundies.
“No one gets a pass,” said Majorie Dannenfelser, head of the right-wing anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. “With Trump, this is his legacy. It’s something that I believe he will get right, but he’s clearly doing some soul searching right now.”
Actually, Trump's reticence is pretty straightforward—he knows it's an electoral loser for Republicans, plain and simple, particularly in a general election. It is also most certainly his legacy, and he is actively trying to bury it.
In the wake of last year's Supreme Court decision gutting Roe v. Wade, some two dozen states have implemented outright abortion bans while others are moving toward outlawing the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, which is before many people even know they are pregnant.
As 2024 gets underway, Dannenfelser's group plans to ask all Republican candidates to sign a national 15-week abortion ban pledge.
“If any GOP primary candidate fails to summon the moral courage to endorse a 15-week gestational minimum standard, then they don’t deserve to be the president of the United States,” said Dannenfelser.
But SBA Pro-Life America isn't the only organization aiming to extract public commitments from Republican hopefuls. The Heritage Foundation and Students for Life Action also have designs to ensure banning abortion is front and center in GOP primary candidate forums, questionnaires, and other venues.
More power to 'em.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who's eyeing a bid, is already on record supporting a national 15-week abortion ban, but he has also indicated that he wants to snuff out legal abortions completely in "every state in the land."
Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley signed a 20-week abortion ban in 2016 while she was governor of South Carolina. It included exceptions for the life of the mother and nonviable fetuses.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump's undeclared chief rival, has pledged to sign a 6-week abortion ban that GOP state lawmakers are on track to deliver to him this session.
Despite the fervor of his GOP counterparts, Trump is exactly right about what a nonstarter curtailing abortion access and reproductive freedom is at the ballot box.
But the dogged push by forced birthers will continue throughout the cycle to the detriment of a Republican Party that is mounting simultaneous attacks on Black voting rights, transgender freedoms, parental rights, freedom of speech, and more.
Eventually, a GOP nominee will emerge who will either be at odds with the fundies (causing serious internal GOP strife) or at odds with the broader electorate (sacrificing any chance of winning over suburban women).
Either eventuality will be a welcome development for Democrats.