Over the last few weeks, and seemingly out of nowhere, Donald Trump began praising Planned Parenthood. “Planned Parenthood does a lot, a really good job in a lot of different areas, but not on abortion,” he told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. At the debate in Houston one week later, Trump declared: “Millions of millions of women—cervical cancer, breast cancer—are helped by Planned Parenthood.”
This was glaringly out of step with a political party that has made great hay in Congress over defunding Planned Parenthood, and opened Trump up to attacks from Marco Rubio and particularly Ted Cruz, who flirted with forcing a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding last year. Trump maintained during all of these exchanges that he supports defunding the group and is pro-life, but nevertheless seemed to be taking a tremendous gamble by telegraphing moderation on abortion—particularly since he was expressly pro-choice for most of his life before ostensibly changing his mind.
But yet again, there is a method to Trump’s madness. He either has an uncanny feel for the Republican base, has excellent pollsters, or is just incredibly lucky with his scattershot positions, because he is accessing an ever-growing portion of the Republican base that is comfortable with abortion, accepts the sexual revolution, and wants candidates to stop talking so much about social issues.
This dynamic helps Trump while clearly hurting Rubio and Cruz, according to new polling from Democracy Corps, and moderation on social issues is an under-discussed factor in Trump’s success.
The Democracy Corps survey is worth reading in full, because it establishes Trump’s basic appeal and outlines what fractures exist inside the Republican party. The key finding is that two things unify and animate GOP voters, from Tea Partiers to moderates: a deep antipathy to Democrats and Democratic politicians, and strong anti-immigration views.
Being anti-Democrat is actually twice as powerful as a motivating factor than being pro-Republican, the polling found. The party overwhelmingly agrees that there is no difference between the Democratic Party and socialism, by a 79–21 margin, and by an 88–12 margin thinks the Democratic Party’s policies are so misguided they threaten the nation’s well-being.
The feeling is most intense among Tea Party voters and evangelicals, but even moderates agree on the socialism charge by a 64–36 margin. Moderates also believe that Democrats threaten America’s well-being by a 76–24 margin. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama have favorability ratings somewhere in the neighborhood of infectious flesh-eating diseases among all Republican voters, with only 1 percent of Republicans expressing warm feelings about them.