US election: Trump could doom the abortion issue

Anyone in the USA who longs for yesterday is against abortion today. That's just right-wing dominant culture. And spoiler: Donald Trump is right-wing. But why is the possible soon-to-be-president joining in? dem Issue with the party line?

It may sound crazy, but Donald Trump cares about what he says – at least in moderation. In his own measure. For the Republican, the limits of what can be said are far more permeable than the border in the south for refugees. But they still exist, the verbal minefields. And hardly any topic is as explosive as abortion.

The ex-president sometimes promised to find a compromise in a second term in office, then he flirted with a nationwide ban, and finally he wanted to let the states decide for themselves.

His opponents can accuse Trump of a lot. But hardly anyone can deny that he is a man of clear words. So where does the indecision come from? What is he afraid of?

The main pro: Trump gives the right wing flag in the wind

When Trump first flirted with the presidency at the turn of the millennium, he was still in favor of opposing it. He does hate the “concept” of abortion. Still, he was “very pro-choice,” the entertaining entrepreneur said in a 1999 NBC television interview. Maybe it was due to a remnant of youthful naivety – he was just in his early 50s at the time. Or maybe it was his New York free spirit: “I've lived in Manhattan my whole life. My views would be a little different if I had lived in Iowa.” At the time, only the “Simpsons” makers believed that the weird guy on TV with the blow-dried hairstyle would one day become the most powerful man in the world.

Sure, Trump has always been somewhat right-wing. Only he didn't have to put a label on himself. What for? As a businessman in democratic New York, he was, after all, first and foremost a pragmatist. Sometimes he donated to the left, sometimes to the right – as it suited. His previously very broad set of values ​​only became tighter when he seriously tried to run for the Republican Party. Because on some issues the conservative base does not tolerate any dissent. The topic of abortion is definitely one of them.

But bon vivant Trump was actually less prudish. In his book “Fear – Donald Trump in the White House”, the American star journalist Bob Woodward recounts a meeting between Trump and his later advisor David Bossie – years before Trump actually entered the presidential race. The right-wing activist wanted to make it clear to Trump that a candidate could only survive the Republican primaries if he explicitly positioned himself as an opponent of abortion. And he, Trump, not only spoke out openly for women's rights, but also donated to relevant organizations. There is evidence of this. No problem for Trump: “You can get rid of something like that. I'm – what do you call it? Pro-life. I'm for life, I'll tell you that.”

It's not that easy a few years later. The abortion issue is causing Trump a dangerous lurch in the 2015/2016 election campaign. At the time, US media attested to him having “five different positions on abortion in three days.” In the end, of course, he was pro-life as promised, he had just “evolved”.

His right-wing emancipation ended in a historic regression for the USA. During his reign, Trump appointed three ultra-conservative judges to the Supreme Court. Instead of moving the USA into the future, the Trumpists in black robes brought back the past. In 2022, the conservative majority of judges overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade – thereby destroying half a century of abortion rights. Since then, 14 states have passed near-total bans on abortion. “It was a great honor to do this!” Trump said at the time.

However, at the latest after candidates he supported were lost at the polls in many states in the 2022 midterm elections, the tide on abortion had changed again – and with it Trump. The patron of those who failed, of course, denied any guilt – the losers had simply handled the abortion issue poorly and the hardliners had been too inflexible. Since then, Trump has danced around the bad word with an A.

Trump's legacy: Arizona turns back the clock

But Trump can't get out of the matter that easily. At the beginning of the week he said in a video message that with him as president, the states could decide for themselves whether, when and for how long abortions should be allowed. With the end of Roe v. Wade laid the foundation, now it's up to the states to “do the right thing.”

He made no mention of the rumor he had helped fuel until then that he would sign a nationwide ban on abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy. “Always follow your heart, but we have to win,” he concluded the message. His abortion policy in one sentence.

The timing could have been better. Just a day after Trump found his inner Switzerland, Arizona demonstrated how ultra-conservative whimsy can end. The chief justices in the Grand Canyon State had turned the clock and reinstated a 160-year-old, almost complete ban on abortion (the star reported). Anyone who has an abortion or helps to have one faces up to five years in prison – regardless of whether the pregnancy was the result of incest and/or rape.

A great template for the Democrats. Competitor Joe Biden posted the headline on X over a picture of Trump in golfer's gear. He wrote about it: “Trump did this”.

And he rowed back again. The ancient legal understanding of the judges in Arizona was too much for him, especially the lack of exceptions for extreme cases. When asked by a reporter on Wednesday whether he thought this had gone “too far,” Trump agreed. “Yes, they are, and it will be fixed,” he said.

Trump is in the abortion trap

When he ran for a second term in 2020, abortion opponents hailed him as the “greatest pro-life president in history.” Meanwhile, Trump stumbles over his legacy more often than Biden does in the search for the speaker's podium. For good reason. Out of fear.

In the past two years of the post-Roe era, abortion advocates have won every single election in which they were directly on the ballot, according to NBC News. And it will be tight in November anyway. As of now, Trump and Biden are almost neck and neck in the polls. The two candidates must compete for every undecided vote.

Trump is all too sure of the favor of his base. But the plus side is a shaky construct these days. The fact that he is distancing himself from a national abortion ban is a “slap in the face to millions of Americans who are pro-life,” said his ex-deputy Mike Pence, himself a deeply religious man. The relationship between Trump and the hard-core evangelicals has been going better. The fact that Trump will have to answer in court next week for an alleged hush money payment to a certain Stormy Daniels does not help the healing. Hardcore Christians naturally have a hard time voting for a man who “has sex” with a porn actress – subjunctive or not.

Trump's biggest pro among pro-lifers: He's not Biden. But the uncompromising opponents of abortion are becoming fewer. On paper, Americans are significantly more liberal than in Trump's first race in 2016. At that time, according to the Gallup polling institute, 19 percent of US citizens were still in favor of abortion under all circumstances to ban it, today it is only 13 percent. As in the midterms two years ago, ultra-right stubbornness could cost the Republicans their victory and Trump his future. After all, there isn't the one Republican. Many moderate conservatives are fundamentally against abortion, but see the need for exceptions. Trump has to be tough enough to do one thing and vague enough to cater to the other.

If anyone can do that, it's probably him. For Trump, principles are not set in stone, they are commodities to be exchanged at the right moment at the best possible price. As one anti-abortion activist put it unintentionally aptly to the Washington Post: “I hear a comma in the president's statement, not a period.” No top politician in the United States has changed colors so often on abortion. But now, it seems, Chameleon Trump is also trapped. After all: Mission Abort and Mission Abortion are only separated by three letters.

Other sources: CNN; “Politico”; “Axios”; “Washington Post”; “The Daily” podcast (NYT); “NBC News”