No sooner had Donald Trump decried the six-week abortion ban signed by his chief rival Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis than Iowa social conservatives started decrying him.
On Sunday, Trump told "Meet The Press" host Kristen Welker that DeSantis signing the ban was "a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”
DeSantis’ allies pounced. Conservative Iowa talk show host and DeSantis supporter Steve Deace told The New York Times, "This further confirms to Iowans this is not the same Trump we once knew. This Trump only attacks Republicans from the left.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is chummy with DeSantis and recently signed her own six-week ban, tweeted, "It’s never a 'terrible thing' to protect innocent life." Reynolds added that she is "proud" of the ban she signed into law.
Trump's comments on a high-profile national news show reek of a candidate who has moved on from the Republican primary as he carves out a more palatable general election stance that chafes evangelicals and their allies.
During the "Meet The Press" interview, Trump cast himself as "a mediator" of a national conversation on abortion bans, though he remained noncommittal on supporting a federal ban when asked.
“What’s going to happen is you’re going to come up with a number of weeks or months,” Trump said. “You’re going to come up with a number that’s going to make people happy.”
It was an entirely different posture from Trump's CNN town hall in May when he bragged about destroying Roe.
"The fact that I was able to terminate Roe v. Wade," Trump said during the televised event, "I’ve never seen anything like it. ... I was so honored to have done it."
Though Trump has consistently declined to endorse a federal abortion ban, his bashing of a six-week ban marked a new level of discord between him and forced-birth groups, such as Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
In the wake of Trump's recent comments, the group, which has been pushing a 15-week federal ban, called on "every single candidate" to clarify their position. Though it stopped short of criticizing Trump, it also thanked DeSantis for signing Florida’s six-week ban.
One Iowa-based evangelical leader also sent up a warning flare to Trump following his comments. “Iowa is tailor-made to upend Trump,” Bob Vander Plaats, head of The Family Leader, told CNN. Vander Plaats called evangelicals "appreciative" of Trump's accomplishments in office but also said they were "exhausted" by him.
“If he loses Iowa, there’s a competitive nomination process. If he wins Iowa, I think it’s over," Vander Plaats said.
The GOP nomination may not necessarily be "over" if Trump wins Iowa, particularly if he only ekes it out, or perhaps if a lower-tier candidate makes a surprisingly good second-place showing (think former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley or Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina).
But Vander Plaats is right about the unique nature of Iowa and the potential for its influential evangelical faithful to coalesce around a Trump alternative and deal the frontrunner a blow.
In 2016, Trump survived a second-place finish in the Hawkeye State behind Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. But given his status today as the prohibitive frontrunner, a second-place finish could be devastating to the four-time indictee.
Kerry talks with Drew Linzer, director of the online polling company Civiqs. Drew tells us what the polls say about voters’ feelings toward President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and what the results would be if the two men were to, say … run against each other for president in 2024. Oh yeah, Drew polled to find out who thinks Donald Trump is guilty of the crimes he’s been indicted for, and whether or not he should see the inside of a jail cell.