Anyone Who Thinks Trump Is Done With Abortion Is a Fool

Donald Trump does not speak from conviction. He does not speak from belief or at least no belief other than self-obsession. He certainly does not speak from anything we might recognize as reason; when he’s holding forth from a podium, even the most careful students of Trump the rhetorician will struggle to find the light of complex thought.

You should think of Trump instead as a purely instrumental speaker. It does not matter, to the former president, if a statement is true or false. It does not matter if one statement contradicts another, either in the same speech or the same paragraph or within the same sentence. What matters, to Trump, is whether the words serve the purpose at hand. Trump will say anything if it’s what he feels an audience wants to hear or if it moves him one step closer to a personal or political goal.

Trump’s fundamental disinterest in the truth value of his words is the only context that matters for his comments on abortion Monday morning. In a direct-to-camera statement on Truth Social, the former president told his audience that he does not support a national ban on abortion. “My view is now that we have abortion where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint,” Trump said. “The states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land. In this case, the law of the state.”

It should be said that this position is, itself, a strikingly conservative departure from mainstream thinking. Nearly two-thirds of Americans support legal abortion in most or all cases — the constitutional status quo under Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. To leave abortion rights up to the states is, as we’ve seen since the Supreme Court’s decision two years ago in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, to give state legislatures broad discretion to restrict and limit the bodily autonomy of anyone within their borders.

Compared with the mounting push from anti-abortion activists to ban the procedure nationwide, however, Trump’s stance is designed to look almost moderate. And if you were born yesterday, you could even say that Trump was beginning his pivot to the center, to blur the difference on abortion between himself and other Republicans. If Trump can persuade skeptical voters that he’s not a Mike Pence or a Ron DeSantis, then he’s one step closer to a second term.

But there’s no reason to take Trump’s rhetoric at face value. Trump is aware, like virtually everyone who follows American politics, that Republicans are dangerously vulnerable on abortion rights. The Biden campaign has already begun airing ads that blame abortion bans directly on Trump. He knows that he needs to neutralize this issue as much as possible, without alienating his anti-abortion followers. When it looked, for example, as though support for a 15-week ban would do the trick, Trump floated support for a 15-week ban.

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