Last weekend, Ron DeSantis spoke to the Florida Family Policy Council and zipped through a mention of the six-week abortion ban he recently signed into law, something the organization strongly supports. He also hadn’t seen fit to highlight it when speaking to the evangelical student body at Liberty University last month.
The Florida governor is reportedly set to join the presidential race today and is refusing to answer questions about whether he would support a national six-week ban, or any federal legislation, because former president Donald Trump is already running to the left of him on abortion. “Ron, if you take a look, is losing women voters like crazy,” Trump said in a recent interview with Newsmax.
Back in the winter, when Trump was being blamed for GOP midterm losses after endorsing extremist candidates in competitive Senate races, he passed the blame onto pro-life leaders over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. “The people that pushed so hard, for decades, against abortion,” he said, “got their wish from the U.S. Supreme Court, & just plain disappeared, not to be seen again.”
Since then, the formerly pro-choice Trump has bragged that his picks to the high court delivered the long-sought victory for the pro-life movement — while also refusing to be pinned down on an abortion position. Last month, when he said the matter “should be left to the states,” Trump drew the swift ire of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser (pictured in 2018), who said: “President Trump’s assertion that the Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion solely to the states is a completely inaccurate reading of the Dobbs decision and is a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold.”
But just weeks later, Dannenfelser was at Mar-a-Lago, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, showing Trump polling that indicates majority support for a 15-week ban. Trump was encouraged by the trio to back a federal policy, with Graham telling The Washington Post, “The worst answer is the states’ rights issue. We tried that with slavery. It didn't work very well.”
Trump committed to nothing in the discussion, but Dannenfelser called the meeting “terrific.” The group issued a statement saying that Trump had reiterated his opposition to the “extreme Democratic position of abortion on demand, up until the moment of birth,” and that he had indicated any federal ban would have to include exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Dannenfelser made clear she is not supporting Trump, just talking to him, and that her organization is still demanding support for a ban. “We will oppose any presidential candidate who refuses to embrace, at a minimum, a 15-week national standard to stop painful late-term abortions while allowing states to enact further protections,” the group stated.
In his comments to Newsmax, Trump sounded like he may back a national ban but was noncommittal, merely saying that now the whole country can unite around something “and that’s only because I got us out of Roe v. Wade where the pro-life people had absolutely nothing to say.”
The last time Trump dismissed “pro-life people,” they noticed. This time, not so much.
Just two months ago, these same leaders told The Atlantic they were done with the former president. In his account, Tim Alberta wrote, “Trump’s relationship with the evangelical movement — once seemingly shatterproof, then shaky after his violent departure from the White House — is now in pieces, thanks to his social-media tirade last fall blaming pro-lifers for the Republicans’ lackluster midterm performance.”
That was then; things are different now. Trump is in a commanding position in Republican presidential primary polling and therefore power, rather than pure policy, is consideration No. 1.
That’s why these same activists are not embracing the one contender most devoted to their issue, and who has backed a national ban: former vice president Mike Pence.
And so, no one in the pro-life movement seems upset that Trump is also mischaracterizing their opinion of DeSantis’ abortion ban.
After RCP’s Phil Wegmann tweeted Trump’s comments to The Messenger about DeSantis’ position (“He signed six weeks, and many people within the pro-life movement feel that that was too harsh”), John McCormack wrote in National Review that Trump is “wildly wrong,” and cited polling by Trump’s pollster, Tony Fabrizio, showing that GOP primary voters “overwhelmingly” support a six-week ban by 68%-27%. “He’d have a very hard time naming a single person in the pro-life movement who thinks protecting a baby with a heartbeat from elective abortion is ‘too harsh,’” McCormack wrote.
But Trump can likely sit on the fence and stay there. Prepare for pro-life leaders to waffle so Trump can enjoy his wiggle room. Ralph Reed, who chairs the Faith and Freedom Coalition and supports a federal ban, made clear to Politico that they would likely drop their demands. “I think we’re likely to land at a message somewhere along the lines of: While we support federal legislation, unapologetically, the reality is, most of the action in the near term will take place at the state levels, as well as defunding Planned Parenthood, and a comprehensive ban on taxpayer funding, all of which will build momentum for federal legislation, and pivoting to the fact that Democrats are the real extremists.”
Call it a pivot, but it’s actually a backing down. Pro-life leaders are signing on to Trump’s position, not the other way around.