Donald Trump’s abortion statement angers conservatives and gives the Biden campaign a new target

Donald Trump still says he’s proud that the Supreme Court justices he nominated overturned Roe v. Wade. Yet he again on Monday avoided tough questions about abortion, including whether he would support a national abortion ban should he return to the White House.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee tried to put to rest an issue widely seen as a general election liability. Instead, his video statement exposed the tough road ahead and inflamed leaders on both sides of the issue.

Religious conservatives said they were deeply disappointed. Progressives said he was lying. And there’s every indication that abortion will define the 2024 election no matter what Trump does or says — in large part because Republicans in Congress and in statehouses across the country continue to fight for new restrictions.

Here are some takeaways exploring the complicated politics of Trump’s latest statement.

Searching for political safe ground

For Trump, fights over abortion, like any other major issue, have always been about winning. And so it should not be a surprise that on Monday he avoided endorsing a ban.

Trump has long tried to steer clear from supporting national restrictions that could be a political disaster for Republicans struggling to win back key groups — especially suburban women — who turned their backs on the GOP in recent years.

Trump remains eager to take credit for the reversal of Roe v. Wade. He did so again in Monday’s video posted to his social media site. But even at the state level, abortion bans enacted after Roe was overturned have been deeply unpopular.

So, Trump simply tried to punt abortion back to the states.

“The states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both. And whatever they decide must be the law of the land,” Trump said of abortion rights. “Now, it’s up to the states to do the right thing.”

Religious conservatives, of course, have been fighting against abortion rights for decades on the grounds that abortion should be stopped at all costs — even if they pay a price at the ballot box.

But Trump wants to win in 2024. And in his statement, he made clear that he’s trying to make the best of a bad political situation for him and his party.

“We must win,” he said. “We have to win.”

A test for Trump’s base

The outrage from Democrats was expected. The fierce infighting among Trump’s GOP was not.

“We are deeply disappointed in President Trump’s position,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has declined to endorse his former running mate this year, put it this way: “President Trump’s retreat on the Right to Life is a slap in the face to the millions of pro-life Americans.”

On social media, some conservatives latched onto Trump’s reference to the term “abortion rights,” arguing that such rights do not exist. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a vocal Trump ally, said on X that he “respectfully” disagrees with Trump’s new position.

As he often does, Trump went after his critics by name.

“Lindsey, Marjorie, and others fought for years, unsuccessfully, until I came along and got the job done. Then they were gone, never to be heard from again, until now,” Trump said on social media. He added, “The Democrats are thrilled with Lindsey, because they want this Issue to simmer for as long a period of time as possible.”

Despite the infighting, Trump’s team is making the calculation that his evangelical base, among the most loyal elements in his coalition, will have his back when it matters most. And recent history suggests he’s probably right.

Dannenfelser and others have been pushing Trump to embrace a national abortion ban for several months. Trump, of course, has not. And still, Trump cruised to an easy victory in the GOP Primary.

He even won the Iowa caucuses, historically ruled by religious conservatives, by 30 points.

If his waffling on abortion didn’t hurt him with the GOP base in the primary, it’s hard to see them turning against him this fall.

Biden’s re-election mobilizes

Democrats would have had more ammunition this November if Trump had publicly embraced a national abortion plan on Monday. But Biden’s party still has plenty to work with.

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