Donald Trump has done something remarkable over the past week: He’s actually remained focused on something. During Sunday’s “Meet The Press” debacle, he told his hapless interlocutor, Kristen Welker, that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had made a “terrible mistake” in signing a six-week abortion ban. He also vaguely claimed that, if reelected in 2024, he’d be able to negotiate a “compromise” and impose some type of national abortion prohibition acceptable to everyone.
Facing predictable hand-wringing and consternation from his fellow Republicans, on Wednesday Trump did what he always does: He doubled down, telling an audience in Iowa that Republicans need to learn how to “properly talk about abortion,” and warning Republicans that they could lose the House majority “and perhaps the presidency itself” if they kept pushing more violent and draconian intrusions into people’s personal reproductive lives.
First, let’s be clear on one thing: As Adam Serwer concisely puts it in the title to his latest essay for The Atlantic, “Trump Is the Reason Women Can’t Get Abortions,” and, of course, that’s true for anyone who may become pregnant.
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As Serwer writes:
The person most responsible for what might be the greatest assault on individual freedom since the mid-20th century is Donald Trump, who appointed fully one-third of the justices on the Supreme Court, hard-core right-wing ideologues who overturned Roe just as he promised they would.
If you cannot get an abortion, if you fear leaving your state to get an abortion, if you are afraid to text your loved ones or type abortion into a search bar, if you are scared to ask a friend or loved one to help you get an abortion, if you know someone coerced into remaining in an abusive relationship because they fear prosecution, if you cannot find an obstetrician in your state, if you have a relative who was left at the edge of death by doctors afraid to risk prosecution by violating an abortion ban—you have Donald Trump to thank.
Trump, of course, is not changing his tune on abortion because he’s actually had a change of heart. He is, in typical fashion, simply running a con, his dirty work having been accomplished. He may not have personally cared about abortion, but he knew what to say in 2016 to earn the votes of the white evangelicals who elect Republicans in this country, and he knew exactly what to do to please them once he attained the presidency. Most importantly, Trump realizes how much credit those religious voters grant him, how blindly devoted to him they are, and that they’ll never, ever vote for a Democrat, no matter what Trump says or does.
So since those voters are already in his pocket, he’s searching for what he can say to try to neutralize the abortion issue among those who voted against him in 2020.
The short answer is “nothing,” and anyone who takes what Trump says seriously should rightly have their head examined. No one should even entertain the possibility of giving Trump any credibility—on any issue, but especially abortion. In that vein, Serwer’s article skewers the wholly predictable, knee-jerk reactions of the press to Trump’s statements.
So let’s go beyond just gawking at Trump’s obviously cynical trial balloon, and instead look at what he’s really acknowledging: This issue is hurting him and Republicans, badly, and it’s not going to go away.
Republicans have been tying themselves into knots over the past few months trying to find a way out of the abortion trap they’ve caught themselves in. Some think there is a perfect number of weeks where punishing pregnant people feels okay; if they could just find it, an American public that overwhelmingly supports abortion rights will somehow be mollified and move on.
Others contend they can finesse the problem they’ve created with magical language: It’s not “pro-life” anymore, but “pro-birth control” or most recently, “pro-baby.” Or, as Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley suggests, politicians just “need to be specific” about what it is they mean when supporting laws imposing state controls and surveillance over pregnant patients’ choices. Does that mean prohibiting people from searching on the internet for information, punishing them for leaving the state to obtain an abortion, or inflicting criminal penalties on doctors, nurses and medical providers? Republicans just need to clarify the terms a little better, it seems.
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No one is fooled by this nonsense. When given the chance, Trump used his power in office to strip away a right in place for 49 years. Republicans in state legislatures around the country then followed up by turning on the tools of state control, and they’re manifestly intent on finishing what they’ve started. There’s no getting around that fact, even if the (overwhelmingly white and male) proponents of these laws remain oblivious to the horrific, real-world implications of what they’ve done.
For Trump to even raise this issue—multiple times in a week—confirms that both he and the Republican Party are simply running scared. On a national level, those voter-rich, highly-educated, suburban enclaves that can spell the difference between a Democratic or a Republican Congress, a Democratic or Republican governor, or a Democratic or Republican president? Those districts are swiftly falling out of reach for Republicans, specifically because of the abortion issue. The GOP is losing young people as well, because (among other reasons), it’s younger people who tend to have unwanted pregnancies.
Below is an ad currently being run by Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
And yet Republicans continue to double down. In Ohio, a right-wing state Supreme Court rubber-stamped pejorative forced-birth ballot language inserted by Republicans desperate to dissuade Ohioans from voting Yes on a November referendum enshrining reproductive freedom in the state’s constitution. In Wisconsin, Republicans in the state Legislature continue to threaten baseless impeachment proceedings against a newly elected state Supreme Court justice who won her seat largely because of her pro-choice positions. In Texas, a Trump-appointed federal district judge and his right-wing Court of Appeals issued rulings threatening to outlaw mifepristone (the “abortion pill”), sending the issue to the same Trump-riddled Supreme Court responsible for this situation in the first place.
And all this time, the horror stories of patients who were denied abortions even when their life was at risk continue to mount. Obstetricians and gynecologists, fearing criminal prosecution, simply pack up and leave states like Idaho, leaving patients to fend for themselves. A new bill in Texas would block internet service providers from allowing sites that inform users about abortion, much like China blocks sites about democracy.
No “magic language” or “consensus ban” is going to solve these problems for Republicans, and nothing Trump says is going to help him on this issue in 2024, or “separate” him from other Republicans.
As Serwer emphasizes in his Atlantic article, what Trump and Republicans say means nothing; it’s what they’ve done—and continue to do—that matters.
They were always in this together. And now they’re going to have to face the consequences. Together.
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