Pay No Attention to the GOP “Debate” on Abortion

Pay No Attention to the GOP “Debate” on Abortion

Pay No Attention to the GOP “Debate” on Abortion

A leading anti-abortion group criticized Trump for not supporting a nationwide abortion ban. Then backed down. They know they’ll get their way, anyway.


Last month, I fell for a kayfabe. The far-right Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America (SBA) “broke” with disgraced former president Donald Trump over his opposition to a national abortion ban and his preference to return the issue to the states. The group called it a “morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate” and pledged not to support any candidate “who refuses to embrace at a minimum a 15-week national standard.”

I bought it. “Bring it on!” I wrote:

This will be an interesting battle within the Republican Party. Do Trump’s likely rivals for the nomination jump to the Susan B. stance, to hurt Trump and shore up their positions with the anti-abortion base? Could it hurt Trump? Or will Trump embolden others in the GOP to put the brakes on the party’s push for ever-crueler abortion restrictions and bans? And what about the party base? Will it turn out that they love Trump more than they hate abortion?

The answer turned out to be “none of the above.” (Of course, I left that possibility open when I wrote about the alleged rift; I’m not that stupid.) Last week, SBA patched things up with Trump, after what its leaders termed a “terrific” meeting with the disgraced ex-president and his chief fluffer, Senator Lindsey Graham, the sponsor of 15-week abortion ban legislation.

The meeting was “terrific,” even though Trump still hasn’t backed the group’s 15-week national ban, or changed his position in any meaningful way. But in a statement, SBA praised “his opposition to the extreme Democratic position of abortion on demand, up until the moment of birth” (no Democrat supports that, by the way) and “reiterated that any federal legislation protecting these children would need to include the exceptions for life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest.” But he’s always said that.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake put it this way: “For a former president with a history of nonspecific, all-things-to-all-people responses, that would seem to be pretty thin gruel.” But as we learned in 2016, the Christian right will take any gruel from Trump, since he promised to give them judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade—and he did.

The rest of the GOP field, so far, seems to have learned a lesson from Trump: on divisive issues like abortion, say whatever you need to get elected, and then pursue an extremist agenda. Poor Nikki Haley might be the exception. The former South Carolina governor on Sunday told Face The Nation that a national abortion ban is “unrealistic,” since it will never pass the Senate. “I’m not going to lie to the American people.”

That’s probably a bad decision in a GOP primary, Governor. Better to take a page from Trump:

“We’ll get something done where everyone is going to be very satisfied,” he promised last week. “I think we’ll get it done on some level, it could be on different levels, but we’re going to get it done. I know the issue very well. I think I know the issue better than most, and we will get that taken care of.” That was good enough for SBA!

In fact, differing from Trump in any way would seem to be dangerous. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis seems to have learned to bow to Trump the hard way. Last week, after CNN’s disgraceful Trump town hall in which he repeated lies about the 2020 election being “rigged” and mocked the woman who just won a civil suit claiming he’d sexually assaulted and then defamed her, DeSantis’s super PAC tweeted a single, solitary implicit critique: “How does this ‘Make America Great Again’?” It’s a fair question if you’re planning to challenge Trump for the nomination. But the PAC got so much criticism, even internally, it reportedly won’t do that again. “That post was a massive mistake,” an alleged “ally” of the DeSantis PAC told Semafor.

The PAC, by the way, is called “Never Back Down.” It is headed by the former leader of Latinos for Trump, the weaselly Steve Cortes, who was paid by CNN to lie on its airwaves for years. He told Semafor the story was false, but that almost certainly means it’s true.

The GOP presidential primary season is just getting started, and I’m already sick of covering it. How do you pay genuine attention to the policy claims of the candidates when nothing matters? Nothing any of them says about abortion means anything: If they get elected, they will continue to erode our rights. Still, the SBA and its turnaround is remarkably dizzying. Although if we get dizzy every time a Republican leader lies, we’re going to be living with permanent vertigo. I have to figure out how to avoid that.

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