Repubs have a massive Dobbs problem. It’s terrifying for GOP candidates who have to get votes outside of deep red areas, so Repub politicians and the anti-abortion activists who support them are addressing it in the usual way: lies and misdirection.
But it’s tricky because they spent decades screaming in people’s faces while trying to remove a constitutional protection for half the population. Adding to the awkwardness, their victory was delivered by an openly rigged, corrupt court that most Americans don’t trust.
That’s a lot to sweep under the rug, and the task is complicated by the fact that Repubs are embroiled in a contested presidential primary. Weirdly enough, this might be one of the few scenarios where access-based, horserace reportage can be useful. Stenography allows us to observe the narrative sausage-making from each camp in real time.
Like his rivals, Trump has tried to have it both ways on abortion. He steamrolled Kristen Welker during the NBC interview yesterday, and the take from NYT horserace specialists Haberman & Swan suggests the GOP field has a collective action dilemma: Repubs overall would be better off downplaying the issue, but individual candidates have an incentive to play it up.
Here’s a gift link to the Times piece and a few excerpts:
Asked whether Mr. DeSantis went too far by signing a six-week abortion ban, Mr. Trump replied: “I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake…”
With Ms. Welker on Sunday, Mr. Trump again refused to clarify his position.
“What’s going to happen is you’re going to come up with a number of weeks or months,” Mr. Trump said. “You’re going to come up with a number that’s going to make people happy.”
He made a far-fetched promise that as president he would “sit down with both sides” and negotiate a deal on abortion that would result in “peace on that issue for the first time in 52 years.”
Yep, that’s definitely not going to happen, just like the “terrific,” “phenomenal” and “fantastic” replacement Trump promised for the Affordable Care Act never materialized either. But Trump, a prolific liar and equivocator, recognizes other liars and equivocators, and in that interview, he called them out or put them in a position to call themselves out.
Welker tried to pin Trump down on whether he supported federal or state level bans. It doesn’t matter, according to Trump, who remained fixated on a magic number of weeks where there’s an imaginary consensus that only he can reveal. When Welker tried to get an answer on the fetal personhood question, Trump aimed a firehose of bullshit at her, splattering his rivals in the process:
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP: It’s much more important, the number of weeks is much more important. But something will happen with the number of weeks, the amount of time, after which you can’t do it. And you know what? The most — the most powerful people that are anti-abortion are okay with that now. And you know what? They weren’t okay with that even a year ago.
KRISTEN WELKER: Your former vice president, Mike Pence, believes that a fetus should have constitutional rights. Do you believe that, Mr. president?
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP: Well, Mike Pence said something about 15 weeks too, which was a big change for Mike Pence, because Mike Pence had no exceptions. I have exceptions, by the way. I think people should have exceptions. I think if it’s rape or incest or the life of the mother, I think you have to have exceptions. It’s very important…
Now all of a sudden — excuse me — now all of a sudden he’s saying 15 weeks. I said, “Wow, where did that come from? That’s a radical change.” Look, something is going to happen that’s going to be good for everybody. And that’s what I’m — I’m almost like a mediator in this case.
He’s not wrong about Pence — supporting a 15-week federal ban (even while leaving draconian state bans in place) is a radical change. The forced birth gang’s willingness to engage in that bit of misdirection is a testament to how much they fear the backlash.
The Times interview notes that Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of S.B.A. Pro-Life America, was “less than thrilled” that Trump attacked DeSantis for the six-week ban but unwilling to criticize Trump. Of course she won’t criticize Trump — she’s as much of a liar as he is.
None of the forced-birth liars have the guts to say what they really want, which is to give the absurd notion of “fetal personhood” force of law and use it to control every woman who ovulates, the downstream consequences in terms of personal freedom and the ability to deliver or receive standard medical care be damned. In the pre-Dobbs world, Dannenfelser and Pence would have denounced as a baby killer any Repub who proposed a 15-week ban.
Meanwhile, the campaign mouthpiece for DeSantis used the Times coverage of the abortion issue to take a whack at Trump, and liar and equivocator Mike Pence lied and equivocated some more:
A spokesman for Mr. DeSantis, Andrew Romeo, responded to Mr. Trump’s attack by criticizing the former president for suggesting he could negotiate with Democrats on abortion, adding that the “disastrous results of Donald Trump compromising with Democrats” while he was president included “$7 trillion in new debt” and “an unfinished border wall.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence, a strict social conservative who has run to the right of everyone in the Republican presidential field on the abortion issue, cast his former running mate’s comments in stark moral terms.
“Donald Trump continues to walk away from the pro-life legacy of our administration,” Mr. Pence said in a statement Sunday morning. “There’s no negotiating when it comes to the life of the unborn. We will not rest, we will not relent, until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the nation.”
To sum up, this issue isn’t going away for Repubs. In addition to the House loonies attaching forced-birth provisions to every bill in that chamber and Senator Potato Head of Alabama continuing to hold the U.S. military command structure hostage to his radical forced-birth agenda in the other, it looks like Trump and the Not-Trumps in the primary will keep the issue on the front burner through an endless slap-fight among themselves. That’s encouraging!