As recently as last week, in remarks to the Concerned Women of America Summit, Trump bragged about the anti-abortion record of his administration. “I’m also proud to be the most pro-life president in American history,” he said. “I was the first sitting president ever to attend the March for Life rally right here in Washington, D.C.” The biggest thing, he emphasized, was his appointment of three Supreme Court justices who “ruled to end the moral and constitutional atrocity known as Roe v. Wade.”
“Nobody thought that could be done,” Trump said.
Whether or not Trump is personally opposed to abortion is immaterial. The truth, established by his record as president, is that he is as committed to outlawing abortion in the United States as any other conservative Republican.
There is no reason, then, to take seriously his remarks on Sunday, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he criticized strict abortion bans and tried to distance himself from the anti-abortion policies of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. “I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” Trump said, taking aim at Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision to sign a six-week ban into law in Florida in April. Trump also rejected the 15-week federal ban pushed by his former vice president, Mike Pence, and promised to negotiate a compromise with Democrats on abortion. “Both sides are going to like me,” he said. “I’m going to come together with all groups, and we’re going to have something that’s acceptable.”
Trump is triangulating. He sees, correctly, that the Republican Party is now on the wrong side of the public on abortion. By rejecting a blanket ban and making a call for compromise with Democrats, Trump is trying to fashion himself as an abortion moderate, a strategy that also rests on his pre-political persona as a liberal New Yorker with a live-and-let-live attitude toward personal behavior.
There is a real chance this could work. In 2016, voters did not see Trump as a conservative figure on either abortion or gay rights, despite the fact that he was the standard-bearer for the party that wanted restrictions on both. It would be a version of the trick he pulled on Social Security and Medicare, where he posed as a defender of programs that have been in the cross-hairs of conservative Republicans since they were created.