Politics & Policy

Trump’s Abortion Blunder

(Alex Wong/Getty)

We are sometimes skeptical about Republican presidential contenders who embrace the pro-life position late in life at a convenient moment, as Donald Trump did a few years ago when he was 64 years of age. Mitt Romney, for whom we have a great deal of respect, changed his mind, too, right around the time he started his journey from leadership of a liberal state to leadership of a conservative party. But sometimes Saul does fall off his ass, and there is more joy in Heaven.

Donald Trump, however, does not seem to have thought this through. (Of course, we could write that about Trump and practically any issue.)

Asked by Chris Matthews about the particulars of outlawing abortion, Trump insisted that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women obtaining abortions. After a sustained barrage of criticism from his presidential rivals and from some anti-abortion groups, Trump changed his position, insisting instead that punishment would be handed down to those performing illegal abortions rather than to those suborning them.

In other words, Trump, who insists that he will surround himself with the best advisers in order to be thoroughly prepared for anything the presidency might throw at him, was completely unready to give a thoughtful answer to a question in a 43-year-old controversy about which a great deal of intelligent and humane commentary has been published.

He managed to damage his own campaign, the Republican party, and the pro-life cause at a single go. That is one of the problems with his masquerading as a conservative, something he isn’t. He doesn’t understand conservatism or what conservatives think, and so he goes from moment to moment saying whatever he thinks will be of maximum benefit to himself in any given context. Punishment sounds tough, and tough is Trump’s brand.

#share#In general, pro-life groups advocate punishment only for the abortionists, understanding that women faced with an unwanted pregnancy are in a very difficult position, that in some circumstances the worst of those difficulties are beyond their immediate control, and that the vulnerability of their position counsels a humane stance even when they have gone to the horrifying length of seeking elective homicide for their unborn children. American anti-abortion laws generally exempted the mothers for these reasons and others.

But whatever your position is on that approach, you should probably have figured it out well before you run for president as a purportedly pro-life candidate.

Trump managed to damage his own campaign, the Republican party, and the pro-life cause at a single go.

Trump likes to compare himself to Ronald Reagan, who also changed his mind over the years on some important issues, including abortion. But Reagan also had a long career as an activist and a governor before becoming the Republican standard-bearer, during which time he bothered to read a great deal of serious policy literature and to figure out what he actually believed and why. There were 16 long years between Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech and his election to the presidency. Donald Trump was not a principled conservative activist 16 years ago, or 16 months ago.

And you’d be a fool to believe that you can predict what position he’ll take 16 minutes from now, on abortion or anything else.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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