Politics / Comment / April 10, 2024

Trump’s Only Position on Abortion Is to Say Whatever It Takes to Get Reelected

The mainstream media is once again covering Donald Trump like he’s a normal presidential candidate, rather than someone who represents the “abortion is murder” party.

Andrea Grimes

Former president Donald Trump at the 18th green during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational–Miami on April 7, 2024, in Doral, Florida.

(Photo by Megan Briggs / Getty Images)

Early Monday morning, Donald Trump released a rambling, stilted video on Truth Social, the financially “turbulent” right-wing propaganda platform he founded, and which he uses as a dumping ground for his signature brand of aggrieved paranoia. In the video, Trump stumbles sluggishly between subjects for nearly four and a half minutes, sometimes struggling to read a teleprompter and other times seeming to drift into a kind of stream-of-consciousness fugue state. The ostensible occasion for the video was the fulfillment of Trump’s recent promise, just seven months before the presidential election, to finally release a policy statement on abortion.

The Truth Social video is a lot of things, but an abortion policy statement is not one of them. In it, Trump does cover reproductive and abortion rights: He brags about being the president who overturned Roe v. Wade, repeats outright lies about Democrats supporting the execution of newborns, coos creepily over “beautiful babies,” and claims to believe that abortion policy is best left to the states. But he spends just as much of the video on his usual ego-driven fearmongering, vaguely bemoaning our “nation in decline,” calling for Americans to follow their hearts, demanding that “we must win,” and pleading for voters across the political spectrum to come together to elect him, the only one who can restore America to greatness.

But readers of mainstream and even typically left-leaning political coverage of the video could be forgiven for thinking Trump has at last staked out a thoughtfully reasoned position on abortion after a period of studied consideration. Coverage focused on Trump’s assertion that abortion should be a state-by-state decision, as if this in and of itself is a coherent policy position. Of course, it isn’t. “Do whatever you want, I don’t care” is laughable on its face, but it’s particularly unbelievable when the unofficial stance of Trump’s party is that abortion is murder.

Returning abortion to the states was supposed to be the national compromise provided by the Dobbs decision, but that feint has already failed to provide the cover that Republicans and the anti-abortion lobby sought for their true goal of banning abortion nationwide. So far, the plan has tanked spectacularly. Republicans have lost every single time voters have been asked to weigh in on abortion since Dobbs, and the GOP has attempted to stem the bleeding by doing everything it can to block more votes and undermine the very democratic process Trump is trying to convince us he cares so much about. That the media reports on Trump’s “leave it to the states” plan as if it’s a serious policy proposal makes me wonder if the political press is actually as gullible and ignorant as Trump and the GOP think American voters are.

In reality, Trump’s video was another cowardly hedge from a desperate, legally embattled, and deeply troubled politician who will say anything to get into the White House again. It’s even possible to report on the video as such, but in the milder terms preferred by the mainstream press—for example, by framing the video as another iteration of confusing doublespeak from a maverick negotiator who refuses to be nailed down on the issues.

But they didn’t even do that. Of course, I don’t expect major newspapers and legacy media outlets to call Trump a fraudster and a propagandist—though it wouldn’t be inaccurate to do so—when for years they’ve largely refused even to plainly name his many lies for what they are. But it was really stunning to see the headlines rolling in, touting Trump’s video as a long-anticipated abortion policy statement instead of situating it as yet another slippery dodge allowing Trump to once again avoid meaningfully engaging on one of 2024’s top election issues.

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We are nearly 10 years into Trump’s reinvention of himself as a politician on the national stage, during which time the former president has managed to upset almost every conceivable political norm and send the country careening ever closer to the edge of outright fascist rule. Despite his open support for January 6 insurrectionists and unabashed attempts to overturn the 2020 election—and continued efforts to discredit that vote—the political media resolutely continues to cover Trump as it would a normal candidate participating in a normal election cycle. It’s as mind-boggling as it is enraging.

The Truth Social video did not provide long-awaited clarity on Trump’s abortion position, but the political press’s breathless, credulous coverage of it as such did further expose the disturbing underlying truth: Whatever Trump says about abortion does not matter. Trump’s many, many statements about abortion over the years—including this latest word-vomit—are incoherent and contradictory, both internally and in terms of their relationship to the GOP’s push to outlaw abortion nationwide. When the press pounces on every measly crumb that Trump drops as if it’s the magical key to a sly political machinator’s unknowable policy aims, it creates a feedback loop that obfuscates his party’s relentless pursuit of ever-more-draconian abortion bans. Voters who dislike Trump can continue to consider him a blathering blowhard and his supporters can celebrate him as a crafty negotiator, all of it a convenient distraction from the real work of forcing Americans to stay pregnant at the government’s behest.

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Casting Trump as a credible, normal candidate while also situating him as just now coming around on an abortion policy at the 11th hour is especially bizarre considering that he has already served as president with the open support of an anti-abortion lobby whose lies he relaunders with gusto. He can be a credible presidential candidate worthy of having his words taken seriously, or he can be scrambling to scrounge up some semblance of an abortion policy at the last minute, but he can’t be both.

And yet, he’s getting away with it. By treating each iteration of Trump’s ever-changing abortion rhetoric as at last a clue to his true beliefs, the political press is enabling him to do exactly what he wants: manage to say so many different things about abortion that voters can simply choose whichever statement they like best, and ignore the rest, along with his actual anti-abortion record. I’m sure he appreciates the favor; he certainly seeks out the media’s assistance with it at every opportunity. Until the advent of Trumpian politics, this kind of thing was seen as flip-flopping, and generally treated as undesirable in a presidential candidate. But once again Trump has managed to break the mold, and with the blessing of the political press.

But even if we were to take Trump at his latest word, that abortion policy should supposedly be left up to the states, it’s hardly a moderate position of compromise. With a new ruling out of Arizona on Tuesday that could allow a 19th-century abortion ban to soon go into effect, over half of American states will have banned or placed significant restrictions on abortion. And even so-called abortion “haven” states like California, Oregon, and Vermont still limit the provision of abortion care in the form of age and gestational restrictions. Are we really meant to believe that Trump is as fine with Oregon’s relative embrace of abortion rights as he is with outright abortion bans across the South and the Midwest? Are we genuinely meant to take seriously the idea that leaving abortion up to the states is anything other than more weasel-worded gibberish from a man who has had 77 years to make up his mind on abortion, including four of them spent directing abortion policy from the Oval Office?

Donald Trump does not have beliefs about abortion, or an abortion policy platform. Trump’s only abortion policy platform is for Trump to be elected president, at which time he will do the bidding of his white supremacist, Christian nationalist, anti-abortion backers. This includes men like Leonard Leo and organizations like the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. In their door-stopper right-wing policy manifesto Project 2025, Heritage proposes enforcing the 151-year-old Comstock Act to ban the distribution of abortion medication by mail. Proving nothing could be further from the concept of leaving abortion up to the states, Project 2025 proposes enforcing the 150-year-old Comstock Act, a federal law that bans the distribution by mail of anything whatsoever that could conceivably be used in the provision of abortion care.

Trump’s word—whatever it may be on any given day—is not the word we should take when it comes to abortion policy. But the people whose words Trump will act on have made their intentions clear: They aim to force pregnant Americans to give birth, go to jail, or die trying. Just as, of course, nearly two dozen states have already done—against the will of the very people Trump says should follow their hearts and elect him in November.

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Andrea Grimes

Andrea Grimes is a writer, editor, and activist who covers the politics of reproductive health, rights, and justice.

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