Long before he was philanderer in chief, Donald Trump famously boasted that he was “very pro-choice.” Friday, he’ll become the first president ever to speak at the “March for Life,” the annual anti-abortion march in Washington.
Trump isn’t just a little “pro-life” now; he’s so pro-life that he talked in 2016 about how there “has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions.
Trump’s newfound interest in denying women’s reproductive rights seems more like an obsession with winning the votes of his Christian base, a base that seems to have no problem with a man who had unprotected sex on the side with pornographic actress Stormy Daniels and playboy centerfold Karen McDougal, and then paid both women for their silence. You might think that all the adultery might make these evangelicals like him less, but no.
After all, he’s paid evangelicals not for silence but for support with judges—cruel and often unqualified judges who will eat away at the legal right to an abortion. That’s what campaign manager Brad Pascale is going for when he says that “Only God could deliver such a savior to our nation” as his thrice-married boss whose Christian beliefs don’t involve much going to church or reading the Bible or, you know, obeying the Commandments.
A suspicious person might say that the president isn’t very Christian at all, just doing whatever it takes to shore up his base amid impeachment.
But evangelicals have been very good to Trump, rewarding his fervent anti-choice-ism with 80 percent of their vote, meaning that roughly one in five Trump voters is an evangelical. And since “red meat for the base” is perhaps the only moral tenet of Trumpism, it makes sense that the man with a Mussolini-like love of rallies would honor their vote with a live performance at the March for Life. It’s not the Trump administration’s first foray there; Mike Pence appeared in 2019 and Trump delivered a video address in 2018.
Never mind that stuff about separating church and state, for the good of both of them. Trump’s Health Department sent an all-staff email Thursday declaring the march “the largest annual human rights demonstration in the world,” reported Politico’s Dan Diamond.
Putting the stamp of the president, and the government, on the March for Life is a risky move in a country where 77 percent of people think the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade, according to a NPR/PBS/Marist poll. There are a lot of different views within that 77 percent, but the fact remains that most Americans are not in favor of taking away women’s reproductive choice. Trump’s bet is that many of those Americans won’t vote on the issue, while those opposed to abortion will.
That’s no sure thing, as abortion has not historically not been a winning issue for Republican presidential candidates. As Nancy L. Cohen detailed in The Guardian, “post-election analyses showed that support for legal abortion had the second strongest effect of any issue on vote choice” in 1992, with one quarter of all voters citing abortion as their top issue as Bill Clinton won the White House. In 2012, Mitt Romney attacked Obamacare’s birth-control mandate, which a post-election study (found) was overwhelmingly popular. They concluded it was a winning issue for the Democratic party and particularly decisive in Obama’s whopping 7.5m vote margin with women.”
Trump became president in 2016 by narrowly winning Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There are a lot of women in those states, including ones who supported Trump then but still don’t want to lose control over their own uteruses. Trump won Michigan by 0.23 percentage points, so a few thousand highly enraged soccer moms could tip the state.
Trump is writing those women off and following the advice of Steve Bannon, who declared in 2018—the year Democrats retook the House!—that “the Republican college-educated woman is done.” It’s hard to imagine the first president ever to speak at the March for Life convincing those educated voters that the president has the same nuanced views many of them do on abortion.
So maybe Trump will be at the March for Life because he cares deeply about abortion. Or maybe it’s because he’s betting that his base is all he needs.