Analysis: Trump grapples with new abortion policy as triumphant March for Life arrives in Washington

Analysis: Trump grapples with new abortion policy as triumphant March for Life arrives in Washington

Analysis: Trump grapples with new abortion policy as triumphant March for Life arrives in Washington



CNN

The anti-abortion “March for Life” for decades demonstrated to Republicans that they could not make it to the Oval Office without the support of the anti-abortion movement.

On Friday, protesters will gather in Washington with a decades-old mission accomplished, following the Supreme Court’s removal of the constitutional right to abortion in the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year.

That means this year’s march will be a time for celebration, but also for debate about the movement’s next step, with some activists looking to curb the procedure everywhere. But this reoriented goal carries great risks. After all, the Democrats belatedly leveraged their own energy on abortion in the midterm elections, in a backlash against the right-wing Supreme Court majority that helped stave off a major Republican wave in the midterm elections.

The March for Life also comes at an extraordinary moment when Donald Trump, the president who did more than anyone else to end Roe after a pact with social conservative voters that helped him win the GOP nomination in 2016, launched a extraordinary attack on evangelical leaders he sees as insufficiently loyal, as CNN’s Gabby Orr, Kristen Holmes and Kaitlan Collins reported this week.

“No one has ever done more for the right to life than Donald Trump. I put in three Supreme Court justices, they all voted, and they got something they’ve been fighting for 64 years, many, many years,” Trump said in an interview with Real America’s Voice on Monday, referring to the overthrow of federal abortion. rights.

“There is great disloyalty in the world of politics and that is a sign of disloyalty,” Trump told conservative journalist David Brody.

The comment was a window into Trump’s psychology, revealing his transactional understanding of politics and the highly developed sense of loyalty he sees as his due.

The former president is specifically angered by the failure to immediately endorse his 2024 White House bid by some evangelical leaders who remain influential figures in the conservative movement. Trump’s third run for the White House has so far failed to capture significant energy.

But Trump has also recently shown signs of questioning whether his supposed greatest domestic achievement — building a generational conservative majority on the Supreme Court and the subsequent toppling of Roe — might end up undermining his hopes for a return to the White House in 2025, he wrote in his On the Truth Social platform earlier this month that the “abortion issue” was mishandled by many Republicans, especially those who insisted there were no exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s life, which he said “lost a huge number of voters.” ”.

The former president’s comments are supported by exit polls from November’s midterm elections, which showed more than a quarter of voters listing abortion as a top issue. About 61% said they were unhappy with the Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade, and about 7 in 10 of those voters supported a Democratic candidate for the House.

In his Truth Social comments, Trump appeared to be trying to shift blame for the Republicans’ failure to regain the Senate and the party’s smaller-than-expected majority in the House. Trump received waves of criticism after the election for promoting extreme candidates and election deniers who often lost in swing states in midterm elections.

But it’s notable to see Trump navigate the abortion policy shift and apparently assess how it could affect his political prospects going forward. After all, he was once unapologetically pro-choice before his foray into Republican politics dictated a change of heart and led to a deal with evangelicals, which included an effective commitment to nominate anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court in exchange for crucial votes. . of social conservatives.

In the past, Trump has attended the March for Life rally, and in 2020, he became the first incumbent president to attend in person as he prepared for his re-election run. He told protesters that “unborn children have never had a stronger advocate in the White House.”

There are still no signs he will convene for Friday’s event, which will include a detour to the US Capitol on its usual route to the Supreme Court to emphasize how Congress is now the focus of the movement as Democrats seek to codify Roe v. Turn protections into law.

Trump’s comments on abortion and his rivalry with evangelical leaders raise the question of whether the former president made a tactical error and is hurting his 2024 candidacy by targeting a critical voting bloc in the GOP primary at a time when that there are growing doubts about whether he is still the dominant force in Republican politics.

Ralph Reed, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told CNN that “there is no path to the nomination without winning the evangelical vote. No one knows this better than President Trump because, to almost everyone’s surprise, he won their support in 2016.”

That question is especially acute in Iowa, the country’s first caucus — at least for Republicans — in the 2024 primary season, which will be the first test of the former president’s dominance over conservatives and evangelicals, especially.

In fact, Trump did not win Iowa in 2016, coming second to Texas Senator Ted Cruz and only beating Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and the state has often not been a true barometer of how the nomination race will play out. of the Republican Party.

However, it will take on extra significance in 2024 and will likely be seen as a strong indicator of Trump’s appeal to the conservative base. A loss there would create a painful narrative as he heads into subsequent races – especially as he heavily won the state in the 2016 and 2020 general elections.

And it’s easy to come up with a list of potential Republican candidates who might appeal in the state if they challenge Trump, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, former Vice President Mike Pence or Cruz turn. So far, only Trump is a declared Republican presidential candidate in 2024.

Trump would be in an odd situation in 2024, as he is, in many ways, effectively an incumbent given his strong support in the GOP and the fact that he didn’t leave after losing re-election. But at the same time, he is not an incumbent president and will likely face a contested primary and therefore may be more exposed in the early races.

Still, while some conservative voters may want to move on, there is still strong goodwill among many toward Trump, gratitude for the change he brought about during his tenure, and admiration for his attitude.

“A lot of people forgave him for his misstatements and his mistakes because they generally liked his ability to fight, even if that became a cliché for some people, Trump detractors,” said Timothy Hagle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, who is an expert on state politics.

This comes to an often-missed point about Trump. For many of his supporters, he offered an emotional as well as a political connection. His willingness to say what many grassroots conservatives thought and to attack institutions they despised, such as the media or Washington pundits and other elites, was as important as many of his often ill-defined individual policy positions.

And it’s also often overlooked that evangelical voters in places like Iowa don’t necessarily vote as a block, or according to what their leaders or pastors recommend, and may prioritize issues like taxes over social issues if a candidate is deemed generally acceptable. That could give Trump more leeway than more mainstream candidates to depart from traditional conservative orthodoxy, even on abortion.

Still, Hagle said, even a small number of disaffected Iowa voters could make the difference to Trump’s chances in the state if they don’t show up for him, as could the more conventional GOP caucus voters who might be taking a closer look. in other aspects of its mandate. candidacy and potential rivals.

“Are they going to support Trump because he fights, or because of his economic position or his position on the border?” Hagle said. “The issue of abortion might not be as important to them, or will they go in a different direction this time?”

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