In a repeat of the 2016 Republican primary, the abortion issue is exposing a split between traditional conservatives and the populist voters who form the Donald Trump base. During Trump’s presidency, these rifts were patched up by Trump and his impressive record of achievements, which included traditional conservative priorities such as tax cuts, deregulation, and appointing the Supreme Court justices who ultimately paved the way for Roe vs .Wade’s demise. But now that Roe is gone, the right is divided and perplexed about what to do next.
Trump has given clear signals that Republicans must bridle their ambitions and moderate on this issue, which has become, unfortunately, a political albatross. In an interview with NBC’s Meet The Press, Trump criticized the party’s messaging as confused and uncompromising and urged Republicans to find a palatable consensus, hinting at a 15-week cutoff. Trump did not rule out signing a federal ban, but he clearly would prefer to leave the matter to the states and focus on shifting the conversation to the left’s extreme policy of abortion without limit.
For this, Trump is being accused of capitulating to evil. The sputtering DeSantis campaign, in many ways a distant echo of the failed 2016 Ted Cruz effort, is laying into Trump especially hard, but DeSantis has struggled to defend his own policy. At last month’s primary debate, DeSantis was asked how he would promote his six-week ban nationally and he dodged the question. This isn’t a new problem for the conservative movement: in fact, back in 2016, Trump was criticized by pro-life groups, and Cruz, for saying women who get abortions should be prosecuted. If you really think abortion is murder, that’s just plain logic.
For the right, abortion is what immigration and crime are for the left: issues where the party is clearly on the wrong side of public opinion. The difference is that Republicans can’t count on the press to cover for them. The narrative that voters receive is “Republicans want to take away your freedom.” It’s an effective message, one Republicans help to amplify with their dissembling squeamishness, which suggests there is a hidden agenda. It’s a message that is helping Democrats escape pain for abusive, mismanaged government: undoubtedly, conservatives paid a price for their long-coveted court victory in the midterms last year, and the left’s abortion messaging has continued to resonate in electoral battlegrounds like Wisconsin and Ohio.
Dobbs changed the laws but not the hearts and minds of the people. If presented with a stark choice between no abortion and unlimited abortion, there is little doubt which way the public would fall. Americans now basically consider abortion to be the ultimate defense against accountability, the horror of horrors in our degraded culture. This perverse attachment is, for Democrats, a saving grace. No political party has ever found success trying to convince the masses to give up their “goodies.” To the extent that fewer abortions are now taking place in certain states, conservatives can claim that as a victory. But they should not get proud. In a political system based on universal suffrage, morality eventually falls to the lowest common denominator.
The America of John Fetterman is not going to vote for a moral crusader in 2024. Trump won in 2016 by leveraging cultural and racial grievances with political correctness and the rise of an anti-American worldview on the left. His brand, which remains uniquely his, remains potent with a broad swathe of poor and middle class voters who feel disenfranchised by globalism, government overreach, borderline murderous race hate against white people, and the general experience of being led by the nose by hypocritical, progressive elites.
Unlike his ideological detractors, Trump is pragmatic and reasonable. Some will reject his message as yielding to the times, but their real issue is with democracy and its consequences, not Trump.