How Should We React to Trump’s Shifting Stance on Protecting Unborn Life?
There’s no sugar-coating the truth: Donald Trump has backslidden on the Life issue. As The Daily Signal reported earlier this week, Trump:
weighed in on Florida’s new heartbeat law, which prohibits doctors from “knowingly performing” an abortion on a baby whose age is determined to be more than six weeks. The law provides exceptions if the mother is a victim of rape, incest, or human trafficking.
“He has to do what he has to do,” Trump said of the law, according to The Messenger. “If you look at what DeSantis did, a lot of people don’t even know if he knew what he was doing. But he signed six weeks, and many people within the pro-life movement feel that that was too harsh.”
The publication reported that Trump was “more vague” on abortion in general, noting that the former president did not specify what kind of abortion restrictions he supported, nor would he say whether he agreed with Florida’s new pro-life law.
DeSantis Signs a Powerful, Protective New Pro-Life Law
Trump’s presumptive presidential rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis, had just signed that law, which is less protective than most prolife activists actually seek, since life begins at conception. But given that few women learn they’re pregnant before a fetal heartbeat around six weeks, it’s massive progress.
In other statements, Trump seemed to suggest that the pro-life movement is hurting Republican electoral chances with its zeal, and that abortion should simply be left to the 50 states to legislate.
I’m not going to speculate on what’s going on in Trump’s heart, mind, or soul. I won’t try to blame this pivot on Jared Kushner — who has enough blunders on his conscience, heaven knows. Instead, I will analyze the potential reactions we could have to this depressing news, and speculate on the wisest, most prudent course of action.
There are several dumb, counter-productive, but emotionally satisfying responses pro-lifers could try, which I’ve observed on social media and in various public statements.
Refuse to Process the Information, and Fixate on the Past
We could say something like this:
Donald Trump is the most pro-life president in history. Unlike previous Republicans who talked a good game, he actually delivered. He appointed the right judges when others would have been afraid to, stood by them through thick and thin, and got Roe v. Wade overturned. Now you want us to turn on him? What are you crazy? That’s some gratitude, isn’t it? The left slams Trump every minute of every hour of every day. I’m not going to join them, even when he does and says things I don’t understand. That’s collaborating with the enemy.
Why is this answer the wrong one? Several reasons. First of all, it’s hype to suggest that Trump is more pro-life than Ronald Reagan. Yes, he got better advice on Supreme Court justices, and didn’t accidentally appoint two pro-choice nonentities (O’Connor and Kennedy) to the court, thanks to presidential aides who straight up lied about the nominees’ real views.
Please Support The Stream: Equipping Christians to Think Clearly About the Political, Economic, and Moral Issues of Our Day.
But Reagan was the man who shifted the whole GOP from a muddled, pro-choice consensus to a solidly pro-life party. His Mexico City policy stopped U.S. support for abortion around the world, saving millions of lives. Reagan even published a pro-life manifesto while in the White House.
For that matter, it was George H.W. Bush who gave us Clarence Thomas, and George W. Bush who (reluctantly) gave us Samuel Alito. It’s true that Trump didn’t foist a John Roberts on us. But at this point, would we have let him? Getting burned by GOP presidents in the past taught the pro-life movement to vet judicial candidates much more carefully.
The worst part of this answer is that it strips us of leverage over Trump going forward. Any politician who thinks he has a constituency safely on his plantation (as the Democrats long have had blacks) will take them for granted, and sell out their interests in favor of new groups he is trying to court, in order to win. Trump needs to know that we can and will hurt him, badly, if he betrays us too egregiously. That’s just how politics works.
Act Like Trump Is a Fraud Who Was Always Lying
NeverTrumpers, and those who held their noses shut with superglue in order to vote for him, are seizing upon this degeneration of Trump’s position to sneer at the rest of us. Their response is basically:
You see? We told you so. This is what happens when you make a worldly compromise with a cynic who doesn’t care about the issue. You sold your birthright by overlooking Trump’s vulgarity and bullying, and now you’re not even getting the mess of pottage. Serves you right. Now those of us who actually have principles must lead the Republican party to embrace a candidate with a consistent, complete, pro-life position, protecting every human life in America from conception.
Of course, no such candidate exists. Unless you want to pick some obscure religious figure who enters the primaries as a single-issue candidate, with absolutely zero chance of winning. That will feel good on some level, while also dispensing us from doing any of the hard work of trying to get the most pro-life possible candidate actually … elected. But hey, I get the appeal of self-righteousness and irresponsible posturing. It’s most of what makes social media fun.
Decide That Saving Babies Doesn’t Matter, Since America’s in Too Much Danger
For this response, I don’t have to invent an ideal representative. Josiah Lippincott wrote a sobering essay defending this point of view at American Greatness. Every social conservative needs to read and reckon with it. (As I will, below.) Here are some crucial quotes:
Immigration, trade, war, and crime. Being right on these four issues propelled Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016 against all odds. The intervening seven years have changed nothing. The only way a candidate from the Right can possibly win the presidency in 2024 is by campaigning on limiting immigration (build the wall), increasing tariffs, getting out of Ukraine, and restoring law and order (especially in regards to elections and the opioid crisis).
The issues of national survival are of primary importance. There is no point in fighting a culture war if we don’t have a country in which this war can take place. Conservatives do not have a viable path to political power any other way.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the culture war is over and conservatives lost . . . at least for now. Trying to rehash these old battles in the present political moment, when institutional Christianity no longer has any meaningful political or cultural clout, is a waste of time—at least at the national level.
Since 1933, the American Right has posted loss after loss in the culture war. From blasphemy laws to pornography, school prayer to abortion, gay marriage to biological men using women’s bathrooms, conservatives and Christians have suffered a nearly unmitigated series of losses.
America’s pastors and priests couldn’t stop this decline. And, for the most part, they didn’t really try or seem to want to.
Will America Survive? Will it Deserve to?
On this view, it’s simply national suicide to push Trump to move any further toward the pro-life ideal than he thinks is politically viable. We’re hanging a millstone around his neck, and guaranteeing the triumph of Democrats who are not just morally depraved, but intent on destroying the country via open borders and pro-crime policies.
This position has more bitter truth in it than the others, so it needs a more complex response. I’ll make several points.
I’ve been saying for 20 years, “Immigration determines whether America will be saved. Abortion determines whether it deserves to be saved.” Both things matter, and the moral issue here isn’t simply abstract. Do we really believe God will continue to protect our country if we refuse to protect its most vulnerable citizens?
As Michael Medved documents, Americans have benefited from a long series of blessings and extraordinary, Providential events that make us seem, indeed, the “almost chosen” people. American exceptionalism is real, if hanging by a thread. Should we tempt God to wash His hands of us, to consign us to the fate of other corrupt, fallen empires from the Assyrians and the Romans to the Ottomans and the Soviets?
Immigration determines whether America will be saved. Abortion determines whether it deserves to be saved.
But there’s a more practical issue. In reality, you can’t have order in the streets if you have chaos in human hearts, murder in the womb, and child mutilation in the schools. It simply won’t work, won’t last for long. Corrupt the software in a computer and soon the hardware stops working. Destroy men’s souls, and watch them stop working hard, delaying gratification, sacrificing for others, and finally even paying their bills. All of our founders said America could only stay free if her citizens were virtuous, even religious. Do we suddenly think they were wrong, that we can live like citizens of Sodom and still expect ordered liberty?
And here’s a hard-headed political implication to that. Lippincott believes that a lot of our fellow citizens want secure borders, safe streets, and a thriving economy in the short run — and don’t care about the long run decay profoundly immoral laws produces. He thinks we should be willing to give them what they want, to slap Band-Aids on America’s suppurating wounds — in order to keep the Kamala Harrises and Ilhan Omars out of power.
Should We Sacrifice for Sodom?
I say, simply, “No.” Absolutely not. If you happy citizens of Sodom want to keep the barbarians out of the palace, you’re going to have to suck it up — and give us support for cleaning up the culture. We won’t play the short term game, and pretend that we really care if Sodom prospers, even survives. We don’t. If you want our help against the savages, you’re going to have to embrace civilization yourself. It’s all or nothing.
The left is burning down the country. If you insist we put the fire out with innocent blood, we’ll simply say … no. Do it yourself, or perish. If the temple is intent on performing human sacrifices, don’t expect Samson to save it.
And that’s what the right people should say privately to candidate Donald Trump.
Correction: This article previously attributed The Daily Signal’s reporting to The Stream.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”