As my colleague Isabela Dias observed yesterday, Republican presidential hopefuls spent the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade kowtowing to the religious right, attempting to outdo one another with deeply anti-abortion rhetoric.
But as the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s keynote speaker, it was Donald Trump who took center stage. The former president boasted about his role in appointing three of the five Supreme Court justices in the Dobbs majority decision. “I got it done and nobody thought it was even a possibility,” Trump boomed on Saturday. Nodding to some form of a national abortion ban, he also claimed that there is “a vital role for the federal government in protecting unborn life.”
The crowd, by all accounts, appeared to relish the speech. One headline concluded that Trump had hardened his anti-abortion stance. But if you look at the actual words, you’ll notice that Trump was repeating the same performance voters have witnessed since 2016. Once again, Trump’s remarks—as they do every time he speaks on abortion—rang hollow when it came to any real policy. For every piece of bombast he threw at the fawning audience on Saturday, the former president ducked, declining to offer the specifics his rivals were eager to provide. That included Mike Pence, who urged GOP presidential candidates to embrace a 15-week national abortion ban. “We must not rest and we must not relent until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in this country,” Pence said during his turn at the lectern, as he challenged his rivals to support the 15-week ban.
Trump didn’t bite. But at this point, why would he? Committing to a specific number of weeks for a national abortion ban would open him up to attacks that he’s either too soft or extreme on an issue the GOP keeps fumbling. Landing on a real policy would render him unable to say in one month that Republicans are losing elections because of hardline abortion policies, only to declare, “I was able to kill Roe v. Wade” a few beats later. As I wrote last month when Trump tried to thread the needle on abortion over the course of one week:
Many things can be evinced from these chaotic remarks: Trump is an idiot in the English language, and he still posts with abandon. But perhaps the most important point is that for Trump, an abortion debate doesn’t even exist. His policies, if you can call it that, have always been reactionary, designed in his brain to please whoever happens to be in the room…He correctly asserts that he was a critical player in removing the constitutional right to an abortion—and that should speak for itself.